An immigration inspiration story: from Amerasian immigrant to U.S. Marshal

March 2, 2018


Barry Burch, of Sandstone, had a life that didn’t start out in a typical way. He was born as Phuc Hong Bui to a Vietnamese woman, and did not know his American father. Burch unmistakingly bore western-looking features and was called “My Lai”, a derogatory term that means “American” and “Mix”.


“For us kids (Amerasian children living in Vietnam), life was not exactly easy,” recalled Burch. “Suffice to say, many of us know first hand what real bigotry really looks like, and in many ways, this experience shaped my attitude early on in life and into adulthood.”


Burch endured being spit on while in Vietnam and having his mother be called a “whore”. When he attended school, recess was never an enjoyable place as he was teased and sometimes beaten up because of his race.  


In response to the mocking and at the thought of becoming indoctrinated by communism, Burch quit school after sixth grade. “I quit school because the thought of having to become a member of the Youth Pioneer Communist Party (you must be a member to continue school) was just too much for a 13 year old boy,” he recalled. “People at that time, because of the political climate, had to “act patriotic” or risk being charged as an ‘enemy of the state’. But people were disappearing and people couldn’t trust each other; everyone was speaking only in whispers.”


Burch was brought to the United States as part of a group of Amerasian children, ones whose fathers were soldiers stationed in Vietnam with Vietnamese mothers. It took 14 years for Burch, his mother, brother and sister to come to the U.S.


Sam Burch “never gave up against all the odds” to bring the family to Sandstone in December of 1982, according to Barry Burch.


“If you only knew how welcoming this town was to us with their open arms, open minds, and generosity, you would understand why I love this town so much and am proud to call myself a Sandstonite,” said Burch.  


Burch learned to speak and write English when he began high school in Sandstone. And here he didn’t feel the tension he felt in Vietnam.  


Burch didn’t take advantage of the generosity of his grandparents and father who took him and his family in. He worked two jobs, teaching karate in the evening and working as a nurses aid at the nursing home when he wasn’t in school. He graduated from Sandstone High School in 1986 and married his high school sweetheart, Tammy Burch (then Tammy Franklin), in 1987. They have two sons, Daniel and Andrew.  


Burch first held a gun in his hands, something that would foreshadow a lifetime passion and career, at the age of 15.  


“My love for firearms happened the instant I was given permission to hold a firearm in 1983 at a friend's house,” recalled Burch. “Though I could not speak English at the time, and had yet to understand anything about the U.S. Constitution, I knew instinctively that it was very special because of what it represented: freedom. Something we did not have where I had just come from and suffered much because of the lack of it.”


But Burch did not know he had a keen eye and talent for shooting until he joined the Marines.  

He attended college for a short time but found a different path to success in the U.S. Marine Corps. After being discharged from the Marines, Burch accepted a position as an officer at the St. Cloud State Penitentiary and then became an officer at the Federal Correctional Institution Sandstone. And after jumping through several hoops (which included seven years of living in the U.S., a background check, a written test in U.S. history and civics, an English proficiency test and an interview), he was sworn in and granted the honor of U.S. citizenship.  

“Words cannot express how proud I am of it,” said Burch.  


Federal Air Marshal

After the event of September 11, 2001, the government was looking for people with certain kinds of talents and specialties to implement the Federal Air Marshal Service (FAMS). It's core mission is to detect, deter and defeat terrorism in the mass transportation sector, particularly in the aviation domains.  


This operation was calling Burch. He was recruited by the FAMS in October of 2001. There he would participate in rigorous training that would include fitness tests and attending firearm and tactic schools all over the country. One of Burch’s firearm and tactics instructors was Jim Smith, a well known Special Forces operator (Delta) who had run the famous Mogadishu mile back in 1994.  


Training was not for the faint of heart

“It is designed to eliminate candidates who are not able to hold onto the standards set forth,” recalled Burch. “Suffice to say, it is mentally challenging when your livelihood is on the line over one test session.”  


Burch imagined himself returning home, a middle-aged man, packing to return with no job. He sat through many toasts made for “some really good people who had to go home in tears”, but he was told that the public demands the best and that the government couldn’t afford the liability of someone operating independently without the necessary skills, experience, and mental fortitude.   


It turned out that Burch had the required fortitude, and in February of 2002, he accepted the Federal Air Marshal offer over an offer also given by the U.S. Marshal Service.


The FAMS missions would bring him a long distance from home, overseas and on numerous flights. The job would require 70 hours per week but also included rubbing shoulders with many of Burch’s heroes who he would end up leaning on and learning from. “The men and women I worked with had a dedication for their country and fellow man that everyone would be proud of,” said Burch.


Burch retired last year after feeling wear and tear on his body accumulated from military and air marshal service. When he retired, he spent some time pondering how to make himself useful in small town Sandstone.  


A new beginning

He resolved to take his experience with the military and as an air marshal, along with his training as a self-defense instructor, disturbance control officer, and experience in SORT (Special Operations and Rescue Team) and put it together to begin his own firearm and tactical training school.


“A lot of folks would like to be self-reliant when it comes to personal protection,” said Burch. “The problem is lack of knowledge and quality training, and those people need to be safely trained with proven concepts and techniques, whether they are beginners or advanced shooters without wasting their valuable time and money.”


Burch is passionate about equipping people with principles that must be understood and practiced. “Your good decision-making process, on such a critical matter, depends on your understanding of the subject,” said Burch. “So the more you know, the better off you are.”

From U.S. Marine to air marshal to firearms and tactical instructor, Burch considers it an honor to take his experience and pass it on to the community he loves.


“It makes my day whenever I see a person’s face light up with understanding in every class,” said Burch.


For more information on Barry Burch’s firearm and tactical training classes, see Burch Tactical on facebook.

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