An event in Congresswoman-elect Stephanie Murphy‘s infancy keeps redirecting her life, a life that has the 38-year-old business professor heading to Washington to represent Orlando and Central Florida as the first Vietnamese-American woman in Congress.

When she was six months old, her family fled Vietnam on a refugee boat. Stephanie, her mother, father, brother, and dozens of mostly strangers, all yearning for freedom and better lives, went adrift when their boat ran out of fuel. Supplies were running low. This was on the South China Sea, in thousands of square miles of open water.

Along came her hero, the U.S. Navy, which intercepted their little boat, provided fuel, food, water and other supplies, and helped them make the crossing to Malaysia. The Lutheran Church took it from there, getting them from a Malaysian refugee camp to America, where her family settled in Virginia.

‘The girl rescued at sea,” as a congressional campaign flyer dubbed her, will not forget the humanitarian assistance the sailors provided. Nor does she want to disappoint them.

Fast forward 22 years and Stephanie Dang was a young strategy consultant at Deloitte Consulting in Washington D.C. when the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks occurred. Through her parents, that South China Sea rescue had driven into her a deep sense of wanting to help others, to serve the public, she said, and the 9/11 attacks awakened that desire. She quit her job and went to graduate school at the Georgetown University School of Foreign Service. And when she got out she was hired at the U.S. Department of Defense as an analyst.

She worked on a Navy service budget staff, and with the combatant command and the Pacific command. Eventually she moved up to the secretary of defense’s office as a policy analyst, and was chief of staff to a global strategic guidance planning effort that won her

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