03/28/05 — South Korean airmen get lessons in jets, Southern hospitality

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South Korean airmen get lessons in jets, Southern hospitality

By News-Argus Staff
Published in News on March 28, 2005 1:53 PM

Eight visiting South Korean pilots and weapons specialists are learning more than just flight procedures for F-15 fighter jets during their visit to Seymour Johnson Air Force base.

They have also had a crash course in North Carolina basketball and American cuisine.

The visitors have been training at the base since December to fly a new version of the F-15 fighter jet that is being built for the Korean air force. The jet is a newer version of the F-15K Strike Eagle that is flown at Seymour Johnson.

The airmen recently traveled to St. Louis to see the first F-15K roll off the Boeing assembly line. At the ceremony, they were joined by Gen. Lee, Han-ho, the chief of staff of the Republic of Korea Air Force.

Prior to arriving at Seymour Johnson, the Korean airmen took an intensive English course at the Defense Language Institute in San Antonio, Texas.

But their education did not end there.

They have taken trips to Charleston, S.C., Williamsburg, Va., and Washington, D.C., and are planning to visit Kitty Hawk soon.

In February, a few of the airmen went to a North Carolina State University basketball game, scoring an invitation to a pregame party with Coach Herb Sendek.

And then there is the food.

Major Kim, Joo Il said that some of his favorite Goldsboro restaurants are Billie's, Ryan's and Outback Steakhouse. They also had dinner at The Angus Barn, and toured the restaurant and winery.

"The most favorite food is steak for me," Kim said.

The airmen said their families are also enjoying their time here. Several airmen have children in local day care centers and in the Wayne County School System.

Maj. Park, Sang Gyoon said the people of Goldsboro have been friendly, despite the difficulties posed by the language barrier.

"Goldsboro is a small city, and has a lot of farms, so that makes the people so kind, I guess," Kim said.

Captain D.J. Abrahamson of the 333rd Fighter Squadron has worked closely with the Korean airmen. He said he has been impressed with how hard they work. Friendships have developed between the Americans and Koreans, he added. A group of the airmen are planning a fishing trip next month.

Language and nationality pose little barrier for the airmen. They have found common ground in their love of flying.

"They're fighter pilots, just like us," Abrahamson said.

The airmen have been given American callsigns like 'Rain Man' and 'Jedi.' Kim says one of the weapons systems operators forgot to bring his coat on a cold trip to Charleston. To keep warm, he purchased a parka, and pulled the hood tight around his head. His callsign? 'Kenny,' after the South Park character.

This week, three representatives of Korean Broadcasting Systems, the South Korean state-operated news channel, visited their countrymen and interviewed Col. Mike Holmes, the commander of the 4th Fighter Wing.

"It's a great experience for them," Holmes said of the airmen. "The Korean families have sponsor families, and they get the chance to share in another culture."

Holmes said the United States Air Force will benefit from the joint training. He described the visiting airmen as the "pick of the Republic of Korea Air Force."

Following their time at Seymour, the airmen will go through 'differential training' in St. Louis, to learn the specifics of the F-15K.

The Korean airmen say they have thoroughly enjoyed their experience, and hope they are the first of many to train in the United States. "We hope to have an exchange program," Kim said.

Kim, Park, and their fellow airmen will return to Korea in the fall, not only as instructors, but as pioneers. "We should be humble," Kim said. "We will do our best."

Kim said he is looking forward to flying the F-15K. "New aircraft, new smell. Same as a car."

The airmen said that as the home of the F-15E Strike Eagle, their adopted hometown has become well-known within the Korean Air Force.

"When we call home," Park says, "people always ask 'How's Goldsboro?'"