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Backbone of the Wolf Pack — Choi Hae-shin

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Shannon Braaten, 8th Fighter Wing Public Affairs

KUNSAN AB, Republic of Korea – The precision and dedication needed to fly over 1,500 miles an hour in the 20,000 pound powerhouse that is an F-16 Fighting Falcon requires years of dedicated training. Yet, Air Force pilots are trained to do this as if it's second nature. They soar through the sky, focused only on the mission at hand.

Their ability to do so is reliant on critical support provided not only by maintainers and airfield management but also by air traffic controllers. Like the guiding glow of a lighthouse to sailors, they ensure the secure flight path and safe landing of aircraft across the Air Force — providing pilots the peace of mind needed to keep the mission on track.

At the heart of the Wolf Pack, one such guiding light is Republic of Korea Air Force terminal controller, Senior Master Sgt. select Choi Hae-shin. Choi has been guiding allied forces from both the ROKAF and U.S. Air Force safely to the ground for over 10 years.

She is currently enrolled in a Pacific Air Forces radar approach control course at the 8th Fighter Wing, whichenable her to perform U.S. Air Force ATC tasks at Kunsan.

Choi’s journey to becoming an air traffic controller started as a spark ignited by the suggestion of a peer — but it wasn't always at the forefront of her life dreams.

“I never dreamed of being ,” she said. “One of my peers on campus, who had worked at [military] camps, talked about the merits of the career when I graduated and was looking for a new job. Then, an opportunity at ATC attracted me enough to enlist.”

Regardless of uncertain beginnings, she said her work with the U.S. Air Force has become her pride. Her role as a ROKAF controller continues to enable her to act as a bridge between allied forces. Not only has Choi absorbed American culture, but she has helped Airmen learn more about Korean heritage.

It is Choi’s hope for service members make as many good memories as they can with their brief exposure to Korean history, culture, and lifestyles.

“Kunsan Air Base gives me a great deal [of pride] as a symbol of the ROK - U.S. alliance,” Choi said. “[My] U.S. co-workers, away from their homes, deserve my respect as a soldier as well as my gratitude as an allied partner.”

The feeling of respect between the allied Airmen within the ATC is mutual, according to Master Sgt. Elnorbert Kalas, chief controller for the 8th Operations Support Squadron’s Radar Approach Control.

“We are one big family in RAPCON, the only difference is our uniform,” Kalas said. “We constantly include each other in our cultural holidays and activities. We not only work hard during business hours, but we also get together and celebrate each other's achievements.”

As Choi spends her day to day in Radar Approach Control (RAPCON) with her U.S. colleagues, it’s clear to her how important the closely integrated workplace and interpersonal relations are to the mission. Recalling her arrival to the Wolf Pack, she recognized the hardship of being a stranger in an unfamiliar place. It was her colleagues at RAPCON who helped bridge the gap and help her find her place.

“They shared in my sorrows as well as in my joys. I remember my wedding and birthday party when they joined and celebrated. I owe them for what I am in my career...I’m nothing special on my own,” Choi said. “Sometimes I face moments when results let me down; that may stop me for a while but then I look around and keep moving forward. It’s my motivation; my motto is ‘[make] something special [out] of nothing special.’”

Regardless of whether this RAPCON family feels they’re special, Choi and the Airmen she serves alongside are key to keeping the skies safe, and pilots steady as the USAF and ROKAF train to defend the Republic of Korea.