Overcoming Hurdles and History to Bring Technical Talent to MITRE

January 2017
Long Le
Long Le

Long Le's foresight, determination, and hard work have taken him far—not only in his professional career, but in life as a whole.

Le is a network, communications, and software systems engineer, and a former helicopter pilot in the South Vietnamese Air Force. Today, he's at MITRE, located at Shaw Air Force Base in Sumter, South Carolina. He works on systems engineering projects supporting the United States Air Forces Central Command.

Since he joined MITRE 12 years ago, Le says he's enjoyed the challenges of applying his skills to a variety of complex engineering puzzles. "I'm always eager to do work that's a good match for my abilities, so I have worked in areas that are completely different from each other."

A Winding and Treacherous Path to Freedom

This kind of adaptability is one reason he's here to tell his story. He first came to the United States in the early 1970s for pilot training at Fort Rucker, Alabama, alongside American helicopter pilots. He returned to Vietnam just prior to the fall of Saigon. 

When the North Vietnamese took control of his country, Le was forced to report to the local police each week. "I couldn't find any work, and the local authorities didn't trust me because of my known training in the U.S.," he recounts. 

With an eye toward the future, Le used his time to learn English. "I played Scrabble to refresh my language skills," he says. "The government was very strict about reading outside books, newspapers, or listening to music. It wasn't easy to learn English in those conditions." Yet he did.

Le endured several life-threatening experiences as he tried to make his way out of Vietnam during the late 1970s. In 1981, he managed to escape to the southern coast of his country, where he embarked on an open-air boat to Thailand. After a five-day journey with 32 others onboard—and with nothing but lemons for food—the group arrived in Thailand, only to be attacked by pirates.

"There was a policy in Thailand at that time that you had to remain in the country for two years," he says. So Le was placed in a refugee camp. After the two-year period, representatives from other nations were allowed to interview detainees.

"When the Americans learned I had trained at Fort Rucker, I was given documentation to come to the United States," he says. Le arrived in Alabama in 1983. He then resumed his engineering education, this time at Wright State University in Dayton, Ohio.

Building a New Career in America

His first software engineering job was in Cincinnati. "That's where I became involved with systems engineering and planning—and I was able to really think about the tough technical problems," Le says. It was a big change from having to worry about basic human survival.

Since 2004, Le's software, hardware, and networking expertise has landed him squarely in the middle of diverse technical challenges, including electrical, network, and communications engineering at MITRE.  "In network planning, for example, I work on designing and implementing enterprise networks for the Air Force."

Le says he values the opportunity to share his ideas with his MITRE team, as well as representatives from the sponsors he supports.

"I like that I have been able to help solve a mix of problems over the years, and the energy of my colleagues makes my job even better," Le says. "I'm very happy to be at MITRE."

—by Cheryl Scaparrotta

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