Basalt’s Tai Kim headed toward military career through Air Force Academy
Tai Kim didn’t fully buy into the military lifestyle until he made a visit to the Air Force Academy only days before his incomplete application was due. But it had been a life he had been grooming himself for since he started at Basalt High School, and it’s a decision he’s now ready to jump into head first.
“The second I got on base there I really felt I belonged,” Kim said. “My brother is a firefighter, so he serves the country in his way. I believe that everyone should give back to the country in some way or form, because that is what the country needs. And I feel like this is the best way I can do that.”
Kim, a BHS senior, will be one of 89 official graduates when the school holds its graduation ceremony at 10 a.m. Saturday on the football field. He was one of two head students this year, was the president of the National Honor Society and was a captain on the Longhorn football team. He also was in the chamber choir, if that wasn’t enough.
A standout athlete, student and leader, Kim’s appointment to the Air Force Academy, which is located near Colorado Springs and is incredibly difficult to get into, came as no surprise to anyone who knew him. The application process included writing numerous essays, physical tests, and it required getting a nomination letter from a congressman, which he received from Colorado representative Scott Tipton.
“He is a unique blend of a student who is super capable, but also very willing and open to acknowledge his own weaknesses and seek help when he needs to,” BHS principal Peter Mueller said. “He is aware of how others will interpret his actions. He was always looking for guidance on, ‘Am I striking the right tone? Is this the right way to do this?’ He was constantly looking for ways to make sure he was headed in the right direction.”
Kim said it was his grandfather who turned him onto the Air Force, although none of his direct family members have any military background. But the more he thought about it, the more it made sense. By going through the academy, Kim will be an officer as soon as he graduates, a nice bonus to go with his four-year degree.
He plans to major in engineering, a nice choice for a future pilot.
“I want to fly jets, mainly, once I get out. I could do that through the Navy, but I don’t like big masses of water very much. I do think flying is a very cool aspect and any military academy has great opportunities but I felt like the Air Force fitted me the best,” Kim said. “I’m hoping I can put in 20 or more years and retire and then start working in the private sector flying either private jets or commercial airliners or being an engineer. But I do plan on making a career out of the military.”
Kim was a standout linebacker and fullback for the football team, and called the defensive plays for the Longhorns the past two seasons, the most successful two-year stretch in program history. More than anything, it’s his unique leadership skills that will translate well in his quest to become an officer in the Air Force.
“Kids will tell you all sorts of stuff, but he was just a doer. So Tai wasn’t going to talk to you about a bunch of things, he was going to show you by his work ethic and who he was as a person,” BHS football coach Carl Frerichs said of Kim’s leadership ability. “Those are the type of kids you love having on your team and are just a joy to coach. They inspire you to be the best coach you can be and they do so much for your program. I can’t thank Tai enough for what he’s done the last four years at the high school.”
During Saturday’s graduation, Kim will sing with the choir and give a speech as one of the head students. He said his speech will be about encouraging family and community, especially after all the losses the students have endured this past year.
Unlike most of his college-bound peers, Kim’s break will last only until June 27, his first day of basic cadet training. The entire month of July is basically a boot camp for the newbies, with classes getting underway in August.
He’s excited and nervous. He understands a time could come where he’d be called into action, and feels he is ready for the rigors of being in the academy. It’s a life he’s spent the past four years preparing himself for, and it’s a life he looks forward to embracing.
“I’ve always wanted to serve, so I’m not too scared of getting called into action,” Kim said. “My biggest fear is just the academy itself, because it’s tough. I think I’m ready, and a lot of people think I’m ready.”
Kim says his parents are on board, as well.
“They are excited and happy. I’m sure they are scared, but they don’t tell me that too much. They want me to make my decision and be happy,” he said. “It would be nice to have a summer, but I feel it’s good to just get right into it and start working.”
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