LAS VEGAS (Dec. 5, 2016) – It was the 364th hand of the final table when Qui Nguyen (fittingly pronounced “win”) beat out Gordon Vayo to take the title of champion at The World Series of Poker®. Qui, a former nail salon owner, endured nine grueling hours of one-on-one play to take home over $8 million in winnings and the coveted gold bracelet.
Gathered behind him in the stands was his family – all wearing matching shirts emblazoned with Qui’s name, face, and now-iconic raccoon hat. And the arm sleeve displayed another graphic of importance to the Nguyen family – the logo of Wounded Warrior Project® (WWP).
Qui recently announced his intent to donate a portion of his winnings to WWP. His brother, Thomas Nguyen, spent 23 years in the United States Marine Corps and played a role in this decision.
Thomas wears his Marine title with demonstrable pride. He’s a battle-hardened warrior and retains that edge in civilian life. Over the phone, his demeanor is what you might imagine – matter-of-fact but professional – which you can find in almost every Marine in America. It’s a fine line: gruff, but never rude; forceful, but never bullish. Thomas strikes the balance perfectly. As he speaks about the tournament’s final table, he almost immediately opens up about his brother Qui’s life story. It offers a glimpse into why the family supports WWP.
“Qui arrived in the U.S. in 2001,” Thomas said. “It was long after I arrived. He was stuck behind in Vietnam because of the war, and by the time he got here, I was at Camp Pendleton in California. He stayed with me on the base, and he started working in nail salons. He wanted to join the Marines, but he had issues with paperwork and citizenship. Qui had the military mentality but couldn’t serve. It was frustrating.”
Thomas, however, did serve – two tours in Iraq and one in Afghanistan. Reflecting on his service took him back to his time at Texas A&M University, where he forged close friendships with the men who would eventually graduate alongside him and get commissioned in the Marine Corps with him. As the war raged on, Thomas began losing friends in combat – including his best friend. He lost half of his college friends by the time his service ended.
“When you’re in the thick of it, as an officer, there’s an emotional detachment you need to have,” Thomas said. “You can’t show weakness – not when you’re leading your men and trying to keep them focused on the mission and keep them alive. As an officer, you have to endure loss privately because every decision you make is life or death.”
It was a state of mind that followed him back to his civilian life; Thomas fought hard not to show any weakness or signs of struggle. He noted the first years of transitioning into the civilian routine were difficult. Sleepless nights were affecting his life. Through it all, Qui stayed with his brother and witness it firsthand.
“He would come up to me and ask me, ‘why aren’t you getting help?’” Thomas said. “It was hard to explain. Looking at it now, the short version was that I built up a lot inside. That’s the old story, though. And I’m glad to put that behind me now.”
Thomas is still driven by his zeal for the military – but from a much different standpoint. Specifically, he sees a great injustice when it comes to the way veterans return to the civilian world – and where wounded veterans struggling with post-traumatic-stress-disorder (PTSD) end up within it. After seeing fellow Marines lose limbs – and sometimes their lives – the idea that some would then wind up in prison because they needed mental health assistance was too much for Thomas to bear.
“These soldiers who come back from overseas with PTSD are rattled,” Thomas said bluntly. “We are trained to wage war, and you can’t throw someone who’s been wired that way back into the civilian world they no longer recognize and expect a completely successful transition. When they go back into society, they’re expected to be completely normal. That’s not going to happen overnight. And to punish these warriors who are struggling with that is just wrong. They need reform; they need jobs and education, not a jail cell.”
He points to the level of incarcerated veterans as proof that treatments for PTSD or opportunities to become more educated are difficult to find. It was the topic of a long conversation between Qui and Thomas as the poker tournament came to a close. Thomas saw a light shining in the darkness, which led them to decide what to do next.
“We wanted to help wounded veterans have better lives,” Thomas said. “We decided to donate to Wounded Warrior Project because we believe in what it does. We see how it assists wounded veterans: helping them get an education, get support, and get connected to beneficial resources.”
More tournaments and competitions are on the horizon, and as Thomas put it, there are more opportunities to give back.
“We’ve got 22 scheduled tournaments so far – in China, Italy, and across the U.S.,” Thomas explained. “Whatever Qui wins, we’re committed to giving a percentage to Wounded Warrior Project and other veterans’ groups. I hope organizations like Wounded Warrior Project are recognized for their ability to help warriors and inform the public and government about veterans’ needs. We can’t assist everyone, but I hope this poker money will make a difference for wounded warriors who are struggling.”
Contact: Mattison Brooks – Public Relations Specialist
About Wounded Warrior Project
We Connect, Serve, and Empower
The mission of Wounded Warrior Project® (WWP) is to honor and empower Wounded Warriors. WWP connects wounded warriors and their families to valuable resources and one another, serves them through a variety of free programs and services, and empowers them to live life on their own terms. WWP is a national, nonpartisan organization headquartered in Jacksonville, Florida. To get involved and learn more, visit woundedwarriorproject.org.