By Senior Airman Suzie Plotnikov, 8th fighter Wing Public Affairs
/ Published May 27, 2021
Maj. Samuel Han, 8th Comptroller Squadron commander, poses for a photo at Kunsan Air Base, Republic of Korea, May 27, 2021. Han’s family immigrated from Busan, South Korea, to Mission Viejo, California, where he and his brother grew up as the only Asians in his community. He joined the Air Force to pay the nation back and thank them for the opportunities his family had since moving to the United States. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Suzie Plotnikov)
“I have only known one house before I joined the Air Force, the house in Mission Viejo, California, that I was born and raised in,” said Maj. Samuel Han, 8th Comptroller Squadron commander. “Back then there were two Asian kids within our entire community, my brother and myself.”
Han described his childhood as ordinary as any other family. He didn’t experience any violence or hatred toward his family or his culture.
“We were both pretty fortunate we were like the other kids in the neighborhood,” said Han. “Looking back, there would be comments that kind of singled us out because of the way we looked…but it’s just kids being kids. I think it was as normal as any other kid living in that neighborhood.”
As Han reminisced on his childhood as part of the Asian American Pacific Islander community and being stationed in South Korea, he wished he embraced his culture more.
“We didn’t think that being Korean is cool, so as you go through school, you forget Korean and you don’t follow the culture and things like that,” Han said. “I do regret missing the chance to submerse myself in how I grew up, where I grew up, and the folks I grew up with. I came out out here and saw how cool it is.
Although he didn’t come from a military background, Han was recruited by the Air Force Academy after graduating high school. For Han, deciding to join was his way to show his gratitude.
“When I was growing up as a child we went through some very tough times, but now my parents and grandparents are relatively comfortable,” he added. “I just wanted to pay the nation back and thank them for getting us to this point after having nothing for a while.”
More than five out of every 100 Airmen and about four out of every 100 Air Force civilian employees identify as AAPI. Growing up in two different worlds and being the commander of many different agencies around base, Han uses his experiences to bridge gaps and bring people together.
“I love inclusiveness and bringing people together; that’s how I try to lead the Wing Staff Agencies,” Han said. “We have a lot of different career fields that think differently and look at the Air Force differently but we all seem to get along. That’s what I learned growing up in that type of environment.”
Since Han joined the military, the Air Force has come a long way in terms of diversity and inclusion.
“This is probably the most proud I’ve been with being part of the AAPI community, this year specifically,” stated Han. “I don’t know if it’s because of the Air Force’s overarching push for D&I and the understanding that I’ve had with other communities, but it makes me super proud of what we’re doing. We have a story to tell and we have a lot to contribute and I thank all the people that are bold and brave enough to have their voices heard.”