LAUGHLIN AIR FORCE BASE, Texas --
People join the military for different reasons: financial stability, education, travel – the list goes on.
For Airmen 1st Class Chansol Kim and Sanghoon Woo, wearing the uniform has a different meaning than most, because through their commitment to the Air Force they are now naturalized American citizens.
“It feels like I’ve put wings on my shoulders,” Woo said. “Before I had citizenship, there were plenty of obstacles. Now that I’m a citizen and a military member, all those obstacles are melting away.”
Woo, who plans on commissioning in the Air Force and becoming a pilot, can now chase his dream unrestrained.
“My father was a pilot in the Korean Air Force,” he said. “I always wanted to be a pilot like him, but I never really got a chance because I moved to the states.”
Woo said that since he didn’t have citizenship, he couldn’t directly commission and become a pilot. His only option was to first enlist, then transition into the commissioned force to chase his dream. Currently, he is right on track to chase his dream.
Like Woo, Kim feels that becoming a citizen has also broadened his Air Force horizons.
“I have been to the United States for 10 years and never felt any hardship for not having citizenship, because I was a permanent resident,” Kim said. “That changed right after I joined the Air Force. I was un-deployable ever since I enlisted, I couldn’t get assignments to overseas and cannot be in certain programs. Now I am all clear.”
Kim also serves in the base honor guard, responsible for providing military funeral honors for veterans, as well as presenting the colors during official events, and sending Airmen off on their way to retirement.
“Honor Guard is more than an additional duty to me,” he said. “I feel so proud of myself, even just being on the team. Recently, I presented a folded flag during a retirement ceremony for the first time, and in that moment I was speaking a statement to the retiree and I felt I was honoring all his years of service in the United States Air Force in front of everyone, and I was the representative. Honor Guard makes me appreciate serving in the Air Force even more.”
According to the National Immigration Forum, from 2001 to 2015, 109,321 military members were naturalized. For Kim and Woo, being one of them brings a breath of relief.
“I feel fresh and new,” Kim said. “I can finally can go through the Border Patrol checkpoints and say yes when they ask if I’m a U.S. citizen.”
At the end of the day, brothers and sisters of the armed forces come from all different walks of life – Kim and Woo are no exceptions. Along the way, they learned that persistence is key and the end result is worth the uphill battle.