Fairchild pilot reflects on his Korean heritage

  • Published
  • By Scott King
  • 92 Air Refueling Wing Public Affairs
He spent his first nine months of his life in South Korea, then in October of 1971, along with his family, he migrated to the United States.

Major Jim Lee, 93rd Air Refueling Squadron Standard & Evaluations chief pilot, is proud to be Asian-American, and proud to be serving his country.

"As a young Korean child in Michigan, growing up and fitting in wasn't easy for me," Major Lee said. "At the time, my parents didn't speak English, so my older brother and I naturally didn't either. When he was sent home from school on his first day, my parents realized things needed to change, so I quickly learned English. By the time I started school I was well prepared, and even ended up skipping a grade."

In middle school his "spark" to become an Air Force pilot came to life.

"When I was in the 7th grade, we had a career fair project where everyone had to research and present a career they would like to pursue - I chose an Air Force pilot," he explained. "I thought it would be pretty cool to fly planes and the idea stuck with me through my middle and high school years."

During high school, he started researching the Air Force Academy. He figured out that was his best approach considering tuition would be paid for, so he would not have to burden his family with a hefty college bill.

"My first few years in the academy, I was focused on grades and l was still weighing my options for a career choice, but really was honed-in on being a pilot," he said. "Turns out my vision was 20/200 so I was steered toward becoming a navigator. Although that would be okay, my passion was to be a pilot. I had been wearing contacts for a while and decided to have my eyes retested, and it paid off - my vision improved, and I was on my way to fulfilling my passion to become a pilot."

Now, with 18 years in the Air Force under his belt, Major Lee is grateful for his early struggles as an Asian-American growing up in the U.S., facing diversity and overcoming it.

"I'm proud to have a different background," he said. "It has helped me in my Air Force career. While I was stationed at Osan Air Base in Korea, I was able to facilitate conversations between Korean and Americans helping to build interpersonal relationships and improving the mission."

Major Lee points out just a few Asian influences in today's rapidly changing world.

"Just look at the technology boom recently with many of the roots starting in Asian countries like South Korea, China, Japan, Taiwan, Singapore and India - those countries are current powerhouses in technology and bring both political and economic clout to the worldwide stage," he said.

He points out that Asian-Americans have an advantage when it comes to perspective.

"I think having come from a different background has its advantages," he explained. "We have a whole other culture to draw references from, which we can use to bring different ideas 'to the table' and improve our processes impacting our Air Force mission. - I say embrace your heritage and be proud of where you came from - I am."