California to Korea: Pilot reinforces Pacific partnerships

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Kelsey Tucker
  • 51st Fighter Wing Public Affairs
When the U.S. military is a guest in another country, it’s important to go above and beyond to be the best neighbor one can be.

U.S. Air Force Capt. Jason Lim, a KC-10 Extender pilot assigned to the 6th Air Refueling Squadron out of Travis Air Force Base, California, dedicated a year toward this goal: striving to strengthen the partnership between the Republic of Korea and U.S. Air Forces.

“The opportunity kind of just fell in my lap, and I took it,” said Lim, a 32-year-old Korean-American native of Los Angeles, California. “I really love Korea: the food, the culture, the friends, the family here. This was actually one of my dreams, to come back to Korea after I first joined the Air Force.”

By the time Lim graduated from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University of Florida in 2007, he’d earned his flight instructor license and planned to teach students to fly for general aviation purposes.

The problem? In 2008 the U.S. went into recession, which meant that jobs – and potential student pilots – were few and far between.

Thus began his career in the ROK as a flight instructor at Hanseo University. Initially, he only planned to stay for a year, but he enjoyed it so much that one year became two, three, and then four years.

Somewhere around the two or three-year mark, however, Lim ran into a personal dilemma. If he wanted to continue along this career path and apply to become a pilot for one of the major airlines in the ROK, was he ready to permanently move on from his life in the U.S. and live as an expatriate?

Perhaps not.

“I wanted to serve in the U.S. military before I made a major life decision as far as a career path,” said Lim.

This desire led him to reach out to an Air Force recruiter in California, who helped him begin the process of applying for Officer Training School. Two years later he was accepted, and after training Lim reported to Travis AFB in 2014 as a KC-10 pilot.

Fast forward to late 2017, and a fellow Airman from his home station who was serving in the ROK on a manning assistance assignment reached out to Lim to tell him of an opportunity: a chance to return to Korea.

“During Key Resolve 2018 we highlighted some key areas requiring a different approach to building partnership capacities with our host nation,” said Master Sgt. Christopher Pedersen, an air refueling control team member with the 607th Air Operations Center. “Capt. Lim’s ability to speak, write, and translate the concepts and ideas to promote effective mobility practices within the Combined Air Mobility Division was a perfect fit.”

Lim returned to Korea in January 2018, this time as a uniformed member of the U.S. Air Force. His prior relationships with members of the flying community came in handy as many of the students he taught as a flight instructor were now members of the ROKAF. Through them, he was able to establish good lines of communication between the 607th AOC and the ROK Air Mobility Reconnaissance Command.

Building these strong relationships helped strengthen the U.S. and ROK alliance, which led to joint training events designed to further the knowledge and capability of both sides. During one such event, USAF C-130J Super Hercules aircrews visited Gimhae Air Base in Busan, where they met with their ROKAF counterparts and shared tactics, techniques, and procedures. Another allowed ROKAF tanker aircrews to observe a USAF KC-10 refueling mission firsthand, preparing them for operations in their own KC-330 aircraft.

“Capt. Lim was able to shape the future of the U.S. and ROK partnership by demonstrating Air Force core values in his interactions with the ROKAF,” said Lt. Col. Joseph Watson, the AMD chief assigned to the 607th AOC. “He was able to show how mobility’s service mentality of getting cargo to its destination on time and providing airborne fuel to the fight when needed are force multipliers.

“Capt. Lim exemplifying these values to the ROKAF will help lay the foundation for success within the ROKAF mobility forces and foster a culture of service and excellence.”

Lim was only supposed to be in Korea for six months. However, when that time was nearly up, he found he had too many meaningful projects in the works to be able just to let go and return home. So, he extended his time by another six months.

After completing his year of service in Korea, Lim returned to Travis AFB to continue his role as a KC-10 pilot. Though Lim is no longer at Osan AB, the impact he made and the relationships he helped cultivate will remain for years to come.