This U.S. Air Force ROTC Cadet Is Ready for Duty

Military life has prepared Samuel Kim for nearly everything, even uncertainty in a time of the coronavirus.

Sabina Lee
April 30, 2020

Long before he knew what to study or which college to attend, Samuel Hyunjin Kim decided on joining the Air Force ROTC. Kim was barely a year old when his father brought his young family from South Korea to the U.S. and later joined the Army. Growing up on military bases, a keen sense of duty and discipline was instilled in him early on.

“I went to a very small American high school at Osan Air Force base in Korea. Many of us who grew up in the close-knit military community end up joining the service. The Air Force program’s analytical training closely aligned with what I wanted to study—national security and defense policy.”

Kim got a spot in the ROTC program at Detachment 560 and attended New York University as an undergraduate in political science and East Asian studies. He knew that a Master of Arts degree in Regional Studies–East Asia (MARSEA) program at Columbia’s Graduate School of Arts and Sciences (GSAS) would further his scholarship.

The MARSEA program is unique, offering a diverse range of courses from across Columbia’s departments and schools, he said. “Courses on military law, U.S. foreign policy and contemporary East Asian politics were a useful supplement, complimentary to ROTC’s academic training.”

Graduating virtually this May, Kim is grateful to his cohort, who serve as both academic colleagues and close friends. “As an Asian American, having a diverse group of peers interested in East Asia as a field of study and a region has been one of my favorite and positive experiences about my time at Columbia. I have fond memories of the late nights in the stacks of C.V. Starr East Asian Library and grabbing lunch at the food carts along Broadway.”

Professor Stephen Noerper, Kim’s thesis adviser and the Korea Society Senior Director for Policy, and Derek Smith, an active duty Army officer in his graduate program, served as role models. They both helped him explore his research interest in East Asia and achieve the balance between rigorous policy studies in academia and discipline that's inherent in the military.

Asian man in sunglasses and U.S. Air Force uniform

The support and care he received at Columbia will always stay with Kim. As the school year comes to a close, he recalls, “I never would have imagined that I’d be kicking field goals in uniform at Columbia’s annual Hero’s Day football game, listening to the testimonies of North Korean defectors, or meeting General Vincent K. Brooks, former Republic of Korea-U.S. Combined Forces commander.”

While Kim wasn’t expecting to spend his last semester online, he empathizes with his peers who are anxious about the uncertainties of post-graduation life. “You don't know about the future until the future comes,” he said. After graduation, Kim will head off for a whole new set of experiences at Goodfellow Air Force Base in Texas, where he will continue his training to become an intelligence officer.

An Asian family of four with a woman in the center holding up a certificate next to a uniformed man

Being an Army brat has well prepared Kim for the uncertainties that a global pandemic has created. “Not knowing where you're going to be when moving every couple of years,” he said, “has made me adaptable to changes.”

Before going on active duty, Kim was hoping to travel through Asia to celebrate his graduation. Instead, his parents will fly from Korea to spend time with him in New York, a place of new beginnings for Kim and his dad.

“My father enlisted while we were living in New York,” said Kim, who will accept his officer’s commission in the same city. “I look forward to applying everything I’ve learned from Columbia to my future career with the U.S. Air Force.”