Phan was deployed and serving overseas in Kuwait with the 386th Air Expeditionary Wing’s SFS, supporting Operation Inherent Resolve at the time of his death.
Hanscom AFB personnel described Phan as the epitome of Air Force core values, emulating excellence in every task he undertook.
In an email to Hanscom AFB’s workforce, Col. Katrina Stephens, Hanscom AFB commander, called Phan “truly an extraordinary Airman. Senior Airman Phan represented the best of the Air Force and understood what it meant to be a true wingman,” she said.
Col. Stephens encouraged the community to be there for one another during this time of loss.
At the age of 18, Phan immigrated to Anaheim, California, from Vietnam to attend school as a computer scientist. He enlisted to help financially support his family. Since English was his second language he used elementary-school textbooks on his off time to improve his speech.
When Phan needed a break from working hard and studying English, he volunteered at the Hanscom AFB K-9 kennels. This gave him a chance to learn all he could about becoming a military working-dog handler.
“He came to this country with big dreams and aspirations and truly worked to obtain all of his goals. He never stopped believing and pushing to achieve what a lot of people never attempt to do,” said Tech. Sgt. Kenneth Souheaver, a 66th SFS defender who served directly with Phan.
The loss is felt deeply and one of Phan’s good friends, shared his thoughts:
“The reason he wanted to improve so badly was so he could better do his job, but more importantly, so he could express himself to his friends and loved ones. I am broken by the loss of one of my closest friends, but I’m inspired by him to pursue a life that would make him proud,” said Senior Airman Joel Bell, also a 66th SFS defender, and a good friend of Phan’s.
Officials at the 66th SFS said that Phan had recently been accepted to the 341st Training Squadron MWD Handler course at Joint Base Lackland, Texas. He was scheduled to attend following his return from deployment.
Officials from the schoolhouse announced in a standing memorial that Phan will be posthumously recognized as a graduate of the course.
In addition, two MWDs have been named in his honor; MWD Kkhai and MWD Pphan and they will go on to serve across the Department of Defense.
The typical spelling of MWD names bred through the DOD “Puppy Program” include a double first letter.
Maj. Shane Watts, 66th SFS commander, said defenders could be vulnerable around Phan without fear of judgement. In Phan’s presence, their weaknesses turned to strength assisted by his calm reassurance.
“He was the type of Airman, defender, man and friend so profound that I felt an overwhelming obligation to live up to the expectations he deserved in a commander. I’m still not sure if I’ve done that, but he’s left an impression on me that I will share with my family and commit to fulfilling in my lifetime,” said Watts.
Chief Master Sgt. William Hebb, Hanscom AFB command chief concluded, “Phan was an absolutely amazing Airman and defender. He made an impact on everyone he knew through his can-do attitude and friendship.”