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The path to becoming American

By Senior Airman Delaney Gonzales 633d Air Base Wing Public Affairs

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The familiar landscape of Seoul, Korea is captured within the eyes of a young child. The sights, sounds and smells belong to a culture commonly practiced, creating a sense of comfort. This is home.

U.S. Army Chaplain Joshua Kim, (Capt.), with the 53rd Movement Control Battalion and 7th Transportation Brigade (expeditionary) was born and raised there until he was 14 years old.

“I have great memories about the country,” Kim explained. “It was safe and secure in the neighborhoods, we all knew each other. It felt like family.”

His early childhood was a prosperous time for Kim and his family; however, new challenges were soon to arise, altering this young family’s path indefinitely.

When Kim was only nine years old, his father started a business in Korea, which was a source of financial security for them.

Kim’s family started out fairly wealthy. Although, as time went on, the family’s success began to crumble, leaving the family desperate for a way out of their ill-fated future.
In search of hope, the family devised a plan to start a new life.

“There was no hope for us at the time,” Kim said. “People say America is a country with opportunities. I think that’s why we came over to America.”

With a crossroads laid out before them, the family traveled to foreign lands to seek out new careers.

“We settled in southern California, where there were more jobs for immigrants,” Kim recalled. “That’s where we started our lives in the states.”

Being immersed into a culture they were not accustomed to became a challenging endeavor, Kim admitted.

“It was kind of a shock. Even though I lived in the states for some time, I never felt like I was fully American,” Kim said.

As he began to settle into his new homeland, Kim pursued a career that aligned with his faith.

“At the time I was an assistant pastor at a big church,” Kim noted. “I was overseeing the education department which consisted of about 1,200 members.”

He felt comfortable in his position in life – desiring to be challenged, Kim looked to God for answers.

“I felt like I was in a comfort zone spiritually,” Kim said. “So I prayed over my future and God showed me the path, so I decided to join [the U.S. Army].”

With his decision set in stone, Kim reflects on distant memories of his childhood in Korea.

“Occasionally I would see those [U.S. Army Soldiers] in the subways, but at the time there weren’t that many foreigners living in Korea so everyone would just stare at them,” Kim recalls. “That’s the thing I remember about meeting American soldiers or foreigners in general.”

At the age of 35, he made the choice to serve his country as a chaplain.

Upon Kim’s return from a chaplain’s basic military training course, strangers approached him at the airport to shake his hand to thank him for his service, Kim stated.
“I realized now I feel like I’m American and people treat me like I’m American,” Kim said with a smile. “I never felt like I was a part of this country, but when I wear this uniform I feel like I’m fully American.”

“I think it’s some sense of belongingness,” Kim added.

The military has become a source of fulfillment for Kim, challenging him to serve whereever there is opportunity to do so.

“I have been in the Army a little over ten years,” Kim explained. “I serve God, I serve my service members, families and DoD civilians. My life motto is loving God and loving my neighbors and that’s what I teach my children too.”

Kim takes pride in his Asian American heritage, teaching his children common Korean cultural customs.

“My wife is Korean, so she cooks Korean meals,” Kim said, “We communicate in Korean and we speak to our children who were born in the states in Korean. Of course they will respond in English because it is their native language. We teach them respect for elderly people. I think that’s a strong custom of Asian countries.”

America is often described as a melting pot. Its rich mix of culture and language gives it a unique distinctiveness from other countries.

“America is a diverse country and it’s a country that is built by immigration,” Kim concluded. “A lot of immigrants still come [here] and that’s our identity and it is always best to embrace and understand each other and that’s how we become stronger.”

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