Say Kevin Nguyen’s name at most any shooting match, and from anyone: competitors, officials—even the parents in the stands, you’ll hear the same thing—Kevin’s just a great guy. With slick black hair and a constant beaming smile, Nguyen probably struggles more to don the stern face he wears on the firing line than he does the fitted leather shooting jacket he wears for his competitions.
“Kevin is an amazing person with an incredible drive to compete,” said National Rifle Coach Jason Parker. Parker also worked with Nguyen during his time in the U.S. Army Marksmanship Unit. “He’s very enjoyable to work with because he really listens. He soaks it all in, and he’ll try any new ideas. He has the will and talent to make it to the top of the podium.”
SGT Nguyen joined the U.S. Army Infantry in August 2011. After basic and advanced individual training in Fort Benning, GA, he was sent to serve with 4th Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Infantry Division, 4th Battalion, 9th Infantry Regiment at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, WA. His Stryker unit was deployed to Afghanistan in November 2012, and on February 2, 2013 while on patrol, an improvised explosive device was detonated, severely injuring Nguyen’s right foot. At age 20, he made the difficult decision to amputate the foot.
“It was the hardest thing I have ever done,” Nguyen remembered about his decision in a 2014 story from Military.com. “I got it done, and I felt a whole lot better after that. Let it go … get back on your feet and then get back at it, which is exactly what I did.”
Nguyen was determined to return to active duty. He was eventually recruited by SFC Armando Ayala, current assistant coach of the USA Shooting Paralympic Team, but back then he was the coach of the Paralympic Division of the U.S. Army Marksmanship Unit.
“It sounded like a cool job at the time,” Nguyen said. “I was trying to get back into the Army and didn’t know where to go at the time. After a 10 minute phone conversation with SFC Ayala, being a shooter for the Army piqued my interest. Over the course of 2½ years, the sport became more and more rewarding and exciting. I love to shoot guns, even if it’s an air rifle or a .22 LR smallbore. Now I’m dedicating the next few years to making that Paralympic Team.”
Prior to the Army and prior to his injury, Nguyen was an avid swimmer and water polo player throughout his high school years in Westminster, CA.
“Our team was competitive, we won a lot of league championships for both water polo and swimming, but my years in high school were nothing compared to how competitive I am now in shooting,” Nguyen said. “I had a height disadvantage in both sports, and in high school, a lot of the competitors were taller than me. I was right around 4'11" at the time, but that didn’t stop me from enjoying the sport and wanting to win. In shooting, there is no height disadvantage; in shooting, to me it’s a matter of experience, the amount time and effort you put into your training, and having that tough mental focus for every shot.”
Now a soldier-athlete in the U.S. Army World-Class Athlete Program (WCAP), Nguyen is focused full-time on making his Paralympic dream come true.
“It’s really a job for me, this is pretty much what I’m paid to do,” Nguyen said. “To me, it’s more than a job, it’s a lifestyle, it’s a career. I’ve enjoyed shooting this sport ever since I first picked up a rifle. I enjoy shooting and I’m going to put full effort into everything I do for this career.”
Though he’s been training for a couple years, Nguyen didn’t make his international Paralympic competition debut until the World Shooting Para Sport match at his home range in Fort Benning in June 2017, where Nguyen won silver in R3 (Mixed 10m Air Rifle Prone SH1) and gold in R6 (Mixed 50m Rifle Prone SH1).
“It was an adrenaline rush!” Nguyen said. “I was nervous, shaky, but at the same time I was overwhelmed with excitement. I had never won at a big competition like this and now it’s been my drive to win again and represent Team USA overseas.”
Nguyen also competed in the 2017 NRA Smallbore Prone Championship, where he and two-time Olympian Michael McPhail both shot 400-38X, with McPhail besting his fellow soldier for third place.
Later in 2017, Nguyen went on to compete at the WSPS World Cups in Bangkok, Thailand, and most recently the WSPS World Cup in Al Ain, United Arab Emirates, where he’s qualified for virtually every Final, but has narrowly missed out on a medal thus far.
Next up for Nguyen will be to compete with the USA Shooting Team heading to the World Shooting Para Sport (WSPS) World Championship this month in Cheongju, South Korea. The World Championship marks the first opportunity for athletes to earn quotas for the 2020 Paralympic Games in Tokyo, Japan.