Cambodian-Born Commander Visits His Homeland
SIHANOUKVILLE, Cambodia -- Commanded by a man who was born in the rice fields of Cambodia, the guided-missile destroyer USS Mustin (DDG 89) arrived in Sihanoukville, Cambodia for a port call Dec. 3.
It has been over 37 years since Mustin’s Commanding Officer, Cmdr. Michael V. Misiewicz has returned to his homeland after being adopted by an American woman in 1973 after the Vietnam War spilled over into Cambodia.
“We are honored to be representatives and ambassadors of the U.S. Navy here today,” Misiewicz said. “Very significant progress has been made this year in terms of U.S. and Cambodia relations and my crew and I are hoping to contribute to that forward progress of strengthening this partnership.”
During the visit, Misiewicz and his crew of approximately 300 Sailors will engage in community service (COMSERV) projects and other goodwill activities. Mustin Sailors will interact and train with the Cambodian Navy, host a reception on board Mustin for distinguished guests and participate in an overnight COMSERV trip to Siem Reap, Cambodia, where Sailors will have the opportunity to visit Angkor Wat, one of the Seven Wonders of the World.
For Misiewicz this visit reaches beyond fulfilling the Navy’s mission, it also brings him back to where his life started and a chance to reunite with family.
His personal life story has garnered international media attention.
As a young boy growing up in the countryside outside of Phnom Penh, Cambodia during the Vietnam War, his family allowed him to be adopted by an American woman who was serving in the U.S. Army in Cambodia. Shortly following his immigration to the U.S., Cambodia fell into more turmoil when the Khmer Rouge regime came to power in 1975, causing millions of deaths in the country in what is known today as the “Killing Fields.”
While Misiewicz has been able to re-establish some communication with family members from Cambodia over the years, it will be a bitter sweet reunion when he is able to embrace and see his family and native country for the first time in almost four decades.
“I’ve been thinking about this visit a lot and thinking about all the emotions I will have to cope with about returning to the country I was born in and seeing relatives that have wanted to see me for so long,” he said. “It is important for me to be strong and to remember and honor the sacrifices that were made for me.”
CBoth Cambodians and Americans in my young life sacrificed life and happiness so I could have a better life. So now I am very happy and proud to lead a mission that serves to develop a positive and persistent relationship between the U.S. and Cambodia, laying the foundation for a long-lasting friendship between our two nations,” Misiewicz said.
Mustin joined a unique group of Navy ships to have the opportunity to visit the Asia-Pacific nation since the end of Vietnam War. In February 2007, the frigate USS Gary (FFG 51) made its historical port visit to Cambodia.
“This is my first time ever going to Cambodia and I am very excited about getting the chance to visit. It is a once in a lifetime opportunity,” said Machinery Repairman 2nd Class (SW) Mickie Kitchens from Roseland, La. “I am glad to see my captain be able to return to Cambodia to see his family and show them what he has become, I know he is making them proud. They will all see he is not a little boy anymore.”
While Misiewicz is humbled by the attention on his personal life, he said the unique opportunities the Navy and United States has provided him, made a story like his own achievable.
“Anything is possible. You can start anywhere, any place, if you’ve got freedom and you have opportunity like we have in the U.S., the sky is the limit,” he said. “When you look at the U.S., you see that we are a melting pot of people from almost every country in the world, and then if you look at the U.S. Navy, that diversity is magnified 100 times.”
If one was to look at my crew, they would be amazed at the different faces, cultures and backgrounds. Every member of Mustin has a unique story of why they joined the Navy, the hardships of their families and of themselves. I’m just one of those stories. I am glad that I’m able to share my story so we can show that the U.S. Navy is committed to diversity and willing to give opportunity to those who work hard and want to succeed,” Misiewicz added.
Misiewicz assumed command of Mustin in June 2009. The ship is one of seven destroyers assigned to Destroyer Squadron (DESRON) 15 and is forward-deployed to Yokosuka, Japan, as part of the U.S. 7th Fleet.