Friday, October 8, 2021

What does an enlisted SEAL, now a naval officer and MD do for an encore?

Son of Korean immigrants possibly going to the Moon in three years. 

From Valor Guardians

Some people are just obscenely good at being over-achievers. They don’t just follow a dream to be a firefighter, a lawyer, or a dentist. They go be all of them. My wife’s obstetrician was one such person. He’d attended college, went to law school, passed the bar and found it wasn’t for him. Off he goes to medical school, residency, and specialization. Amazing man he was. We’ve talked about some of these people as it relates to military service, like Captain Ben Solomon who was a dentist by trade, battlefield surgeon by necessity, but a soldier at heart and died a warrior’s death literally surrounded by vanquished enemies.

One man such as this is an unassuming-looking 37-year old US Navy man named Jonathan “Jonny” Kim. Kim’s parents had emigrated from South Korea in the early-80s. They opened a liquor store in South Los Angeles before Kim was born. His father a diligently hard worker and his mother supplementing the family income by substitute teaching, Kim grew into a shy and bookish young man.

During high school he would wander the halls at lunch instead of risk being seen without friends. Earning high marks in class, he had friends from playing water polo and swimming, but he struggled to be social. At age 16 though he set his sights on a lofty dream goal, to become a US Navy SEAL.

Enlisting would mean putting off college, going into a dangerous profession, and potentially being put into a different Navy career if he didn’t pass SEAL training (which few successfully do).

Kim said on breaking the news to his mother, “I remember when I first told her … she cried. She told me, ‘You’re so smart, why would you do something like that.'” He was committed though and refused to back down from his dream.

Kim’s mother attempted to come to a reasonable compromise and tried to steer him into a service academy. He’d be able to serve and get a top shelf education (with the bonus of it being free). Kim though was undeterred. “I want to enlist,” Kim recalled telling his mother. “I want to be in the deep trenches, from the bottom, working my way up.” He spent the next two years focusing on his physical conditioning to prepare for the road ahead.

In 2002, after graduating high school, at age 18, Kim immediately enlisted in the US Navy. His father had recently passed away. As his mom dropped him off at MEPS, she implored him “with tears in her eyes, [said], ‘It’s not too late, you can come home and we’ll do this family business,’ Kim said. “And for a fleeting moment, I considered it.” But Kim eventually closed the door and told her, “I have to do this.”

Off Kim went to boot camp. He then attended medical corpsman “A” school. He then attended Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL (BUD/S) training, graduating the gruelling course with class 247. After finishing all of his training at Naval Special Warfare he was sent to the Special Operations Combat Medic Course at the John F Kennedy Special Warfare Center and School at Ft Bragg. After all of that myriad training he was finally a fully qualified US Navy SEAL. He was assigned to SEAL Team 3, Charlie Platoon aboard Naval Base San Diego.

Kim’s resume of military courses is what you’d expect from a War on Terror Navy SEAL. He earned qualifications as a Military Freefall Parachutist, Combatant Diver (closed circuit rebreather), Naval Special Warfare Special Reconnaissance Scout and Sniper, and Advanced Special Operations Techniques.

Kim deployed with SEAL Team 3 to Iraq in 2006 and 2008. It was on the 2006 trip that the SEALs fought the hardest. Among those comrades Kim lost in the summer and early fall of 2006 was Aviation Ordinanceman Second Class (SEAL) Marc Alan Lee, who was the first Navy SEAL to die during Operation Iraqi Freedom and who received the Silver Star posthumously for drawing enemy fire during a heated battle. The team also lost Master at Arms Second Class (SEAL) Michael Monsoor, who received the Medal of Honor posthumously for jumping on a grenade to save his teammates.

During the 2006 deployment, SEAL Team 3 was commanded by Lieutenant Jocko Willink and sniper overwatch for their operations was provided by Chief Petty Officer Chris Kyle of American Sniper fame.

On 26 June 2006, Kim was working with an Iraqi Army platoon doing a joint patrol. They were in South-Central Ar Ramadi in a neighborhood known to be an insurgent stronghold. As they entered a house the elements of the patrol out on the street came under heavy fire.

Kim, then a petty officer second class, saw a friendly casualty lying in the open some 30 meters away. Without a moment’s hesitation or thought for his own safety, Kim and another SEAL took off running through a hail of enemy fire to reach the injured man. They grabbed him and dragged him back through the insurgents’ fire to get him to a position of relative safety in a courtyard.

Moments later, an Iraqi soldier inside the courtyard was shot in the head. Again, with no hesitancy, Kim ran to the man’s aid. Dragging him and the other injured man into a house while under enemy fire, Kim then used his corpsman training to begin combat casualty care. His quick thinking, decisive action, and valor under fire saved at least one Iraqi Army soldier’s life. He received the Silver Star for his heroism under fire that day.

During his deployments, Kim also received the Bronze Star Medal w/ “V” and Navy and Marine Corps Commendation Medal w/ “V”. He was then selected for commissioning through the Navy’s Seaman-to-Admiral-21 program in 2009. Under this program he’d remain on active duty but attend college on the government’s dime.

In 2012 Kim would graduate from San Diego University (summa cum laude naturally) with a degree in mathematics and earned his commission as a Navy officer. He would then immediately start medical school at Harvard Medical School. The new officer and highly decorated former SEAL would thus embark on his second dream job pursuit. He wasn’t even 30 yet.

While studying at Harvard, Kim ran across Scott E. Parazynski. Parazynski is a physician and a NASA astronaut (now retired) with five Space Shuttle flights under his belt (spending nearly 60 days in total in space and seven EVAs). Inspired, he did what any Harvard Medical School alumni former SEAL mustang officer would do and decided to shoot for the stars, literally.

After completing his medical degree in 2016, he did his on the job training with a medical internship in emergency medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital and Brigham and Women’s Hospital. Kim (whose Navy commission had been transferred to the reserves) would then try out for NASA.

Kim was selected in June 2017 as one of only 12 candidates out of a pool of more than 18,000 applicants to become part of NASA Astronaut Group 22. He reported for training in August and graduated another two year training program in January 2020 to become a fully qualified NASA Astronaut. I do believe he’s the only astronaut to wear a SEAL trident on his flight suit. If he does fly in space, I wonder if the Navy will authorize him the astronaut device like they do for aviation badges.

Now for those keeping track, this was Kim’s third trip through a lengthy, grueling, and arduous training process.

Jonny Kim is now a lieutenant in the Navy Reserve while he works at the Astronaut Office at NASA and awaits a flight assignment. In December 2020 it was announced that Kim was selected with 17 other astronauts to begin the training and preparation for a possible 2024 moon landing.

Somewhere in all this being a badass special warfare, Harvard-trained physician astronaut Kim found time to get married and have three children. I really do feel for his children. It’ll be nigh on impossible to live up to even half of what their dad’s accomplished. He’s only 37, so he’s got a couple more decades to work in some other amazing career choice. Only thing I can think of that would be more impressive is to also become a bona fide rock star (multi-platinum,  award-winning, Hall of Fame inductee) with a doctorate in astrophysics (like Brian May of Queen).

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