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NEWS | April 17, 2024

Flora retires after more than 36 years of service

By Cotton Puryear | Virginia National Guard Public Affairs

Maj. Gen. Lapthe Flora celebrated more than 36 years of military service with family, friends and fellow service members at a retirement ceremony April 12, 2024, at the Virginia Military Institute in Lexington, Virginia. Maj. Gen. James W. Ring, the Adjutant General of Virginia, presided over the ceremony.

“What a privilege and pleasure it is for all of us to be here today,” Ring said. “We are here today to honor a long-serving Virginian, veteran, leader and quality individual.”

Ring talked about the importance of Citizen-Soldier service going back to the founding of the Jamestown in 1607 and how Flora so effectively managed having a very successful career in industry alongside his military career and made it “look easy.”

“We recognize you today for that long-standing service and thank you for the generational effects you have had on other leaders and touched through your career as you served at the senior-most levels,” he said.

Ring presented Flora with a Certificate of Appreciation from the President of the United States, a Certificate of Retirement signed by the Chief of Staff of the Army, a Certificate of Service signed by the Chief of National Guard Bureau and the Virginia Distinguished Service Medal. Ring also presented a Certificate of Appreciation signed by the Chief of Staff of the Army to Thuy Flora. Chief Master Sgt. Kelly B. Reich, the Virginia National Guard Command Senior Enlisted Leader, assisted the Flora family and Ring with furling Flora’s general officer flag symbolizing his retirement.

“As I stand before you on the threshold of a new chapter in my life, I am filled with a whirlwind of emotions - gratitude, nostalgia, excitement and perhaps a hint of sadness at bidding farewell to a career that has been my life's calling for over 36 years,” Flora said. “I want to express my deepest gratitude to every one of you for being here today. I know many of you traveled across the country to be with me and my family. Your presence fills my heart with joy.  It reminds me of the incredible journey that has brought me to this moment.”

After thanking Ring for presiding over the ceremony and his staff as well Soldiers from 1st Battalion, 116th Infantry Regiment, 116th Infantry Brigade Combat Team for their work in setting up everything, he also thanked retired Maj. Gen. Cedric T. Wins, the superintendent of VMI, for providing “the perfect venue for this occasion.”

His biggest thanks went to the “two wonderful ladies in my life,” his wife Thuy and daughter Christine.

“Without them I wouldn’t be standing here today,” Flora said. 

“Your love, encouragement, and sacrifice sustained me through the highs and lows of military life, and I could not have accomplished all that I have, without your unwavering support,” Flora told his wife. “I am forever indebted to you for your endless patience, love and understanding.”  
To his daughter Christine he said, “Thank you for being the best daughter that any dad could ask for. I know Daddy hasn’t always been around when you needed help, but thanks to Mommy, you never missed a beat.”

Flora recognized his brother Kalvin who he described as “the best brother and battle buddy during some of the darkest hours in our lives, and the most selfless person that I know.” He shared how his brother encouraged him to pursue a college education and took the responsibility for getting a job and providing money to their family back in Vietnam.

Flora also thanked his former employer and his fellow coworkers as what is now Elbit Night Vision.

“I thank you for your support, and friendship throughout my years of service,” he said. “Citizen soldiers like me rely heavily on the support of employers like Elbit NV who help us accomplish our mission.”

Flora commissioned as an Infantry Officer in 1987 after graduating from the Virginia Military Institute. He has commanded at every echelon, from platoon to joint task force, and led troops from a variety of key staff positions. His operational assignments include overseas deployments to Bosnia, Kosovo, Afghanistan and Djibouti.

From May 2020 to May 2021, he served as the commanding general of Combined Joint Task Force - Horn of Africa, and before that he served from May 2016 to April 2020 as commander of the Virginia Army National Guard and was dual-hatted from August 2018 to April 2020 as the deputy commander and Army Reserve Component integration advisor at United States Army Southern European Task Force, United States Army Africa, Vicenza, Italy.

“To all my fellow military service members, it has been an honor and a privilege to serve alongside you,” he said. “Thank you for the camaraderie. Your support, counsel, and mentorship have enriched my life both professionally and personally. Your dedication, professionalism and unwavering commitment to duty have inspired me every step of the way, and I am proud to have been part of such an extraordinary Team USA.”

Flora shared how the driving force behind his 36 years of service in the U.S. Army and the Virginia Army National Guard stemmed from a deep sense of gratitude and indebtedness to the American people.

“As a Vietnamese boat refugee who arrived in the United States exactly 44 years ago this month, I was welcomed with open arms by the generous and compassionate people of this great nation,” he said.

He recognized his adoptive parents, the late Audrey and Jack Flora Jr., VMI Class of 1937, as well as the people of the Roanoke Greene Memorial and the Raleigh Court United Methodist Churches.

“Their kindness, generosity and unwavering support during my time of need left an indelible mark on my heart,” Flora said.  

“It was this profound sense of gratitude that ignited a fire within me, a fire fueled by the desire to give back to the country that had given me so much,” he said. “It was this sense of indebtedness that drove me to devote 36 years of my life to serving in the Virginia Army National Guard, upholding the values of freedom, democracy, and justice that make America the truly exceptional country that it is.”

Flora said that every day he put on his uniform and stood ready to defend his new home, he did so with a “heart overflowing with gratitude for the gift of freedom that had been bestowed upon me.”

He said that every mission, every deployment, every sacrifice he made in service to the country that welcomed him with open arms and offered him a chance at a better life.

“Now, on this significant day, as I stand before you preparing to embark on a new chapter in my life, I do so with a profound sense of gratitude for the opportunities that America has afforded me,” he said. “It has been an honor and a privilege to serve this great nation, and I am forever grateful for the generosity and kindness of the American people.”

He thanked America for giving him the gift of freedom.

“It is a gift that I will cherish always, and one that I will continue to honor and uphold for as long as I live,” Flora said. “Thank you all for being a part of this journey, and may we continue to strive for a future filled with peace, prosperity, and freedom for all.”

Flora said that holding the retirement ceremony at VMI had special meaning.

“It was over 40 years ago that I first set foot on this campus. I signed my name on the registration book, and promised to be the best citizen soldier that I could be,” Flora said. “Today, over 40 years later, I have returned to sign-off and report, sir! Mission accomplished!”
Flora was promoted to brigadier general at the National D-Day Memorial June 6, 2016, in Bedford, Virginia. A native of Saigon, he was the first Vietnamese boat person to be promoted to general officer in the United State Army and the second of Vietnamese descent.

Following the Communist capture of Saigon in 1975, Flora and his brothers fled the city to avoid being drafted into the North Vietnamese military. He spent more than three years in the jungle, then fled by boat to Indonesia where he spent a year living in three separate refugee camps. When he arrived in the U.S., he quickly learned English and finished his high school education in only three years.

Flora said he is often asked how he kept his sanity through the ordeal of his escape from Vietnam and time in the refugee camps, and his answer is always “tenacity.”

“My unyielding resolve to stay alive motivated me to endure three and a half years of harsh life in Vietnam with no electricity and no running water where we grew and hunted for our own food,” Flora said at a Congressional reception May 3, 2017, at the Russell Senate Office Building in Washington, D.C.. “Through it all, I survived. My determination to be liberated from tyranny motivated me to escape from Vietnam.”

He said he is also frequently asked how he transformed from a refugee into a commission officer who achieved the rank of brigade general in the U.S. Army, and his response that question is “opportunity.”

“It is only in American that someone like me, homeless, destitute, but with a burning desire to survive, can thrive,” Flora said. “America is not perfect, but she still is the land of endless opportunity. With opportunity and self determination to serve our nation, anything and everything is possible.”

After high school Flora attended the Virginia Military Institute in Lexington where he earned a bachelor’s degree and commission in the U. S. Army Reserve in 1987. He later transferred to the Virginia Guard where he served in every staff position within 1st Battalion, 116th Infantry Regiment, 116th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, including commander of the battalion.

Flora’s adopted father was an officer in the 116th Infantry Regiment, 29th Infantry Division who landed on Normandy on June 6, 1944, and part of the reason he chose to have his promotion in Bedford was to honor his father’s military service.

He is a graduate of the U.S. Army’s Infantry Basic and Advanced Courses, the Combined Arms and Services Staff School, U.S. Army Command and General Staff College, the United States Army War College, the Defense Support of Civil Authorities Course, the Joint Domestic Operations Course, the Army Senior Leader Development Program-Basic Course, the Dual Status Commanders Course, the Joint Task Force Commanders Course, and the National Security Studies Management Course.
Flora retired from his civilian career after 30 years at the Roanoke-based Harris Corporation where he held a variety of positions, including engineering technician, process engineer, engineering manager, engineering director and vice president for quality assurance and process Improvement. He is a certified lean six-sigma black belt and holds six patents related to image intensification and night vision devices.

Flora holds a Bachelor of Science in Biology from the Virginia Military Institute and a Master of Strategic Studies from the U.S. Army War College.
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Flora to succeed Mercer as Assistant Adjutant General – Army

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Flora thanks Vietnam Veterans at bridge naming ceremony

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