A legacy of hard work, military service, pursuing the American Dream

  • Published
  • By 2nd Lt. Gavin Kim
  • 71st Flying Training Wing Public Affairs

VANCE AIR FORCE BASE, Okla. -- I am 2nd Lt. Gavin Kim and this is my story. 

It starts in the mid-1960s with my grandfather’s service in the Republic of Korea Air Force as part of Korea’s mandatory military service time for young men.

While enlisted in the ROKAF he worked in maintenance of large gas and diesel engines under the command of a U.S. Air Force lieutenant colonel who appreciated his work ethic and offered to help him in any future endeavors. 

Many years down the road, in 1973, after earning a college degree, getting married and having two kids, my grandfather moved his family to America for a better opportunity at a good future.

That American lieutenant colonel was retired and owned a Mazda dealership in Miami. He honored his word to help my grandfather by securing a work visa for him and his family.

After two years in Miami, my grandfather moved his family to Los Angeles to be part of the Korean community there. He continued to work for Mazda but was struggling to make enough money to support his family. 

My grandparents and their two children lived in a single bedroom in a family friend’s house for six months before taking out a $1 million loan at an interest rate of over 20% during the stagflation years of the late 1970s.

They bought a house and a small neighborhood grocery store where they worked 365 days a year, 12-14 hours a day, for seven straight years. Determined to succeed, they sacrificed much to provide a better life for their children.

Located in an underprivileged community, the store attracted some unsavory patrons and my grandparents were robbed at gunpoint a couple of times. Despite this, they continued to work hard and often helped other low-income families in the neighborhood, earning them love and respect in the neighborhood.

During the Los Angeles race riots of 1992, many of these low-income individuals protected my grandparents’ store, paying back the respect and kindness my grandparents gave them in the past.

While my grandparents struggled financially, their son, my father, was struggling to fit in. He was bullied at school and learning English along the way. But he kept his head up and planned to go to college for a better future. My grandparents raised him to be grateful to the country which gave him the opportunity to succeed, and to never complain.

Even when my grandparents were at their lowest point, they refused to apply for unemployment benefits because they would not take handouts. They chose to focus on working hard with the opportunities America provided them.  

With this mindset, my father wanted to serve in the military and applied to the service academies. He received an appointment to the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colorado, where he graduated in 1992 with a degree in biology.

He went on to attend the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences and earned his medical degree and served 27 years on active duty before retiring.

My father is a board-certified emergency physician with a master’s degree in Public Health. In his eyes, being a physician was always about serving others above anything else.

In one sense he helped people as a physician by healing them, but as a military medical officer charged with ensuring the medical readiness of our warfighters, he played an integral role in protecting our nation’s interests. While he may not have been on the front lines his work allowed the military members to continue functioning efficiently and effectively. 

My father has always been a role model in my life and sets an example of the type of selfless leader I strive to be. Following in his footsteps I also attended the Air Force Academy and graduated in May 2022 with a degree in economics.

I am now stationed at Vance and will attend Undergraduate Pilot Training on my way to becoming an Air Force pilot. I will strive to help others just like those who helped me get to this point.

I am proud to serve in the U.S. Air Force and thankful for the opportunity to help protect the American Dream for those like my grandfather, my family and the many who will follow.