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2016 Team Member of the Year

When Tan “Tommy” Huynh was 6 years old, he witnessed a horrific crime that resulted in the death of his mother, brother and sister. Years later, he was involved in a motorcycle accident that left him with a physical disability. Following a long recovery, he started working at Naval Air Station Pensacola in 2015, and this year he was selected to be the 2016 Team Member of the Year. Tommy’s part of a GCE team that serves approximately 9,000 meals a day to service members and military personnel, and with a big smile says, “This job is one of the best things that’s ever happened to me.”

You’d never know it by his infectious smile and positive attitude, but Tan “Tommy” Huynh survived two traumatic experiences. When he was only 6-years-old, he and his siblings watched from a hallway, while a man stabbed and killed their mother. His older sister was 8, a younger brother was 4 and their baby sister was 2.

The children hid until the attacker found them, strangled the two youngest children and stabbed the older sister, but she survived. Tommy said, “My room was last. He was yelling my name and looked under the bed straight at me. I cried, ‘Please don’t kill me. Please don’t kill me.’” Suddenly, the man fled with money and the family car. Tommy crawled out from under his bed to find his older sister wounded, but calling 911. He saw his motionless brother on the bed, and then he went into the hallway bathroom.

“I saw my little sister on the floor,” Tommy said. “She picked up her head and looked at me, then collapsed.”

Over the years, Tommy found strength in God and was doing well until he turned 24 when tragedy struck again. Someone pulled out in front of him while he was riding his motorcycle. When he came out of a coma, he learned he had sustained severe injuries. He now has a metal rod in his leg and writes with his left hand. He lives with aphasia, a condition that impedes speech ability as the result of a brain injury.

“I was young and had the world in front of me.” Then a happy memory flashed through his mind and he smiled and said, “Working on cars was my hobby. I used to save my family a ton of money on car repairs.”

Today, one of the high points of Tommy’s life journey has been working at Global Connections to Employment (GCE) in the scullery (dishwashing area) at the Galley aboard Naval Air Station Pensacola.
He’s a well-liked 31-year-old young man who jokes and exchanges fist bumps with supervisors and co-workers. Tommy never thought he’d be the 2016 Team Member of the Year. He just naturally, unknowingly earned the recognition through good work and a good heart.

“Working here gives me an opportunity to communicate with others, and I like to stay busy. When I got this job at GCE I was thankful.” Tommy shared some advice for employers who might consider hiring someone with a disability: “Don’t judge a book by its cover until you’ve opened and read it. God is still working on me, and He’s doing an awesome job.”