Army colonel finds dream serving adopted country
• Photo gallery: McKinley, UH grad takes command of Army brigade
By Eloise Aguiar
Advertiser Staff Writer
SCHOFIELD BARRACKS — A career soldier who immigrated to Hawai'i as a boy and found his American Dream in the Army has returned to the Aloha State after 22 years of serving around the globe to take command of the 25th Infantry Division's 3rd Brigade Combat Team.
Col. Richard Kim yesterday received his command of about 3,600 soldiers in a military ceremony replete with band, hundreds of troops, color guard, visiting dignitaries, family and friends.
He replaces Col. Walter Piatt, who has been with the 25th for seven years and deployed three times with the group.
Kim said he arrived here in 1976 from Korea with his parents, who were looking to live the American Dream.
He became an American citizen while in intermediate school, knowing that opportunity was his for the taking.
"The biggest thing my parents wanted for us as they left Korea was ... giving us more opportunity," Kim said following yesterday's ceremony. "My thought as I was getting a citizenship, even that young, was if I try hard enough, if I work hard enough then it's attainable. I did not think I would be in the Army, though."
But his time in the ROTC program at the University of Hawai'i-Mānoa changed that.
He graduated from McKinley High School and then from UH in 1988, and was commissioned as a second lieutenant.
Friends and classmates who attended yesterday's change-of-command ceremony said they always knew that Kim had the makings of a career officer.
"Back in ROTC he was always the hard-charging one in the whole class,"said Sean Lee, Kim's classmate at UH and an Army reservist.
The command is a very prestigious position, said Kimo Dunn, a classmate and Army reservist.
"This is an infantry brigade," Dunn said. "It's the one that's going to be leading in the battle and on the front line."
Classmate Allen Yim said Kim's accomplishments are especially noteworthy because of the obstacles he had to overcome.
"Especially when he was going up the ranks," Yim said. "There weren't that many minorities, so he went through a lot of struggles."
Kim has served with mechanized, light, Ranger, airborne infantry and joint/combined staff units in South Korea, on the East Coast and in the Mideast.
He has held several command positions, including his most recent combat deployment in Iraq with Task Force White Falcon — 2nd Battalion, 325th Airborne Infantry Regiment — during surge operations in Baghdad 2007 and 2008. For their actions there, the battalion was awarded the Valorous Unit Award.
Kim is fresh from duty in Korea, where he said a recent attack on a South Korean military ship — an attack blamed on North Korea — left the nation in turmoil.
In Hawai'i, some of Kim's first duties will be training the troops and preparing them for another deployment, sometime next year.
"I think there's a lot of initiatives that's going on but again it's to ensure that as a country Afghanistan can sustain on its own and continue to build capacity for the country and assist them so they can secure themselves and have a robust economy," he said.
Kim said he looks forward to Zippy's bentos, one of his favorite foods. He hoped to spend the weekend enjoying the island and remembering the troops lost under his command and the sacrifices they and their families endured.
After seven years in Hawai'i, Col. Piatt said he's leaving home and the best soldiers, families and civilians in the military. The division made a difference in Afghanistan and Iraq. He said the highlight of his command was his last deployment to Iraq.
The division was there in 2006 and 2007 during the surge, he said.
"We went back in 2008 to 2009, knowing that we won the fight, but this time we had to win the peace," Piatt said. "The peace was more difficult and I was so proud. The highlight is how these soldiers would embrace that new mission of reconstruction and building, building life instead of destroying life."
Piatt is moving to Washington to become a fellow at Georgetown University.