Journey of a Refugee turn Law Enforcement Officer

Tony Hornik-Tran

Tony Hornik-Tran
Supervisory Special Agent, Diplomatic Security Service


My name is Tony Hornik-Tran and I have assumed duties as Supervisory Special Agent/Senior Regional Security Officer (SSA/RSO) at the American Institute in Taiwan (AIT), Taipei since July 2016. I joined the State Department’s Diplomatic Security Service as a Special Agent in 2002 when I was 35 years old. Previously, from 2012 to 2015, I served as the RSO at U.S. Embassy Bratislava, Slovak Republic. From 2010 to 2012, I was the Desk Officer for East Asian Pacific Affairs (EAP) Region in the Diplomatic Security International Programs Directorate (DS/IP/RD) who was responsible for Australia, Brunei, Cambodia, China, Fiji, Hong Kong, Malaysia, Mongolia, New Papua Guinea, New Zealand, Philippines, the Pacific Islands, and Vietnam. From 2007 to 2010, I was the ARSO-Investigator (ARSO-I) for U.S. Consulate General Shanghai, China. From 2004 to 2006, I was the Assistant Regional Security Officer (ARSO) for U.S. Embassy Luanda, Angola. I also supported overseas in RSO capacities in Sana’a, Yemen; Windhoek, Namibia; Chengdu, China; Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia; Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam. From 2003 to 2004, I served in the New York Field Office (NYFO).

Tony Hornik-TranA career in law enforcement was not really my first choice. In 1982, my parents gathered their life savings and paid for my brother and me to escape to a free country. We set out from Vietnam on a small fishing boat with 37 other people. After five days and six nights at sea, we finally made it to a small town named Mariveles, at the southern tip of the Bataan Peninsula in the Philippines. We were then transported to the Vietnamese Refugee Asylum Camp in Palawan, and later transferred to another camp called the Philippine Refugee Processing Center (PRPC) in Bataan. During 11 months at the camps, I met numerous international organization workers from all over the world. I was not only deeply touched by their generosity, commitment, and dedication but also inspired by them. I promised myself that someday I would come back to one of this same refugee camps to help other refugees in need as they had helped me.

In America, I was placed with an adoptive family in Madison, Wisconsin, for a few years. This family took me in with unconditional love, treating me as if I were their own son and facilitating the transition to my new country. I also promised my parents in Vietnam that I would educate myself, so I attended the University of Wisconsin at Madison. I always knew that I wanted to help others in life so a degree in social work and law enforcement was a natural way to go.

In 1990, I graduated from the University of Wisconsin at Madison with a bachelor’s degree in social welfare and was recruited by the International Catholic Migration Commission/Joint Voluntary Agency (ICMC/JVA), an organization that assists uprooted people, refugees and migrants worldwide, as an International Bilingual Caseworker, to work in the Philippine Refugee Processing Center (PRPC), between 1991 and 1994, where I used to be a former refugee in 1982. Assisting them was one of the most rewarding experiences of my life—especially since I met my wife there—and I extended my contract to three years.

Tony Hornik-TranPrior to Diplomatic Security Service, I spent six years with the San Jose Police Department (SJPD). Before that, I spent six years with various international and domestic non-profit governmental organizations in other locations. As a former refugee from Vietnam, serving in the United States Foreign Service for almost 16 years has been a humbling experience and a privilege. If it were not for America, I would never have had a chance to do what I do today. So I would like to conclude my story with my favorite line in a famous speech by President John F. Kennedy: “My fellow Americans: Ask not what your country can do for you—ask what you can do for your country.”

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