Vietnamese “Bomb Lady” Shines in U.S. Navy
By Jackie Bong-Wright
From Boat Refugee to Explosives Expert
Duong Nguyet Anh spkoke no English when she landed in the U.S. at the age of 15 as a boat refugee from Vietnam. Now 44, she has been showered with 21 performance awards in her 21-year career as a U.S. Navy expert in lethal explosives. Commendations such as Excellence in Public Service from the Pan Asian American Chamber of Commerce (2004) and Achievement in Naval Technology (1999) as well as prestigious awards for invention, publications (3 times), and community action (3 times) have been a feature of her work since she began. She combines a mind of steel, a smiling face, and a modest attitude – a mixture that her admirers find highly attractive.
Anh Duong has led the development of 10 high-performing explosives involving 18 different Navy, Army, Air Force, Marine Corps and Special Forces weapons. She has a patent and two invention disclosures to her credit, has published 33 technical papers on explosive materials, and presented 42 papers at national and technical conferences. She also advises our government and military as well as private companies and allied nations on the use of weapons explosives.
Anh Duong is now the Director of Science and Technology at the Naval Surface Warfare Center, Indian Head Division. In that capacity, she develops science and technology strategies, and is now working on a new payload for the thermobaric bomb, part of a joint effort by the Defense Threat Reduction Agency, Air Force Armament Command and U.S. Navy.
Nationally and internationally recognized as a leader in explosives, Anh Duong has been a keynote speaker at various events and has been featured in numerous newspapers and magazines as well as on radio and television, including the BBC in London, SBTN Cable TV in California, and VNRA in Australia.
Blasting Terrorists’ Caves – - Thermobaric Bomb
What drives Anh Duong to shine in the field of explosives and weapons? As a child in Vietnam, she always ranked among the top three students in her school. In the U.S., she quickly became a member of the Student Honor Society at Montgomery Blair School in Maryland despite her lack of English at the start of the school year. She ended up graduating from high school with honors, moving on to graduate cum laude from the University of Maryland with a Bachelor of Science in Chemical Engineering in 1982. She also received a B.S. in Computer Sciences, again graduating cum laude.
Anh Duong has said that her ideal is to make a contribution to the U.S. for providing her with unlimited opportunities to improve and to achieve her goals. She wants to be part of the fight for freedom, and to help preserve her adopted country from terrorist attacks.
So she could stay close to her hometown and her family — her husband is a senior software engineer in chemical and biological anti-warfare and her four children range from 9 to 15 – Anh Duong went to work at the Indian Head Division of the Naval Surface Warfare Center (NSWC) in Maryland. She was first assigned to a team of scientists and engineers developing gun propellant. Later, she became leader of the Propulsion Group, developing missile and rocket propellants.
In 1991, she formulated and co-developed PBXW-130 and PBXIH-136, the two best-performing shock and bubble underwater explosives to date. She then became Program Manager of all Navy explosives for weapon systems. She was the U.S. delegate at a NATO conference on explosives, and chairman and member of many national and international panels and technical steering groups in explosives and explosives safety. In 1999, she became one of the five senior program managers at the NSWC responsible for explosives and undersea weapons for research, development and production programs.
After the 9/11 attacks and as U.S. troops searched for Osama Bin Laden and his followers in caves and underground tunnels, she was commissioned to develop a “tunnel defeat weapon.”
Leading a team of 100 scientists and engineers in the development of the first U.S. thermobaric bomb, she and her colleagues fielded it in support of Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan in a record 67 days. The term thermobaric comes from the Greek word for heat and pressure. The bomb blast, lasting a few seconds, pulverizes and incinerates anything within a thousand feet. This bomb, she said, has a mission, an enemy, and even an address.
Human rights activists have called the bomb “thermo-barbaric” and asked for its ban. Anh Duong responds that there are a lot of bad guys in the world and that the best defense is offense. She would prefer that the U.S. never have to go to war, but “if we do, we’d better equip our troops with the best weapons to make sure that a lot of them come back.” The success of this highly effective bomb was recognized with the Roger Smith Team award for the entire 2,200-person workforce at the Department of the Navy and a Civilian Meritorious Medal for Anh Duong herself.
Her latest endeavor? A guided weapon focusing on a specific target and able to avoid damage to others in cases of terrorist stand-offs and kidnappings. Her greatest pleasure, however, is writing poetry, a pastime she has pursued since she was a teenager.