OSAN AIR BASE, Republic of Korea -- A U.S. Air Force member was recently awarded one of the Republic of Korea Air Force's (ROKAF) Outstanding Airman of the Year Awards.
Each year, the ROKAF Chief of Staff, now Gen In-Ho Park, recognizes eight Airmen and civilians in Combat Power Development, Operation of Organization, Digitization, Volunteer, Cooperation and Special categories.
Lt. Col. DJ Abrahamson, Seventh Air Force Inspector General, took home the Cooperation Award after devoting 13 of his 26 years in service to the alliance between the U.S. and Republic of Korea. Ten of those years were spent stationed on the peninsula.
His devotion doesn’t stop there – out of uniform, he and his family are working tirelessly to adopt a Korean child they began fostering in 2017.
Abrahamson’s Korean partnership began in 2005 at Seymour Johnson Air Force Base, North Carolina.
“I was a deputy for the team that trained the first eight crewmen for the new ROKAF F-15K [the Korean 'Slam Eagle' variant of the F-15E Strike Eagle],” he said. “We taught them and flew together for over six months - first to teach them the F-15E flying and tactics, then develop them into F-15E instructors. Together, we attended the rollout of F-15K number 001 at the Boeing factory in St. Louis.”
The Korean students brought their families with them, and Abrahamson and his team ensured they were integrated into the community for meals, celebrations and travels. Those bonds live on today and he met two of his previous ROKAF F-15E students, now a ROKAF colonel and a two-star general, before the award ceremony.
Motivated by the sense of fulfillment he gained from that time, Abrahamson applied to the new Foreign Area Officer (FAO) program - a position which requires two years of intense and difficult Korean language training.
During those years one of his Korean students and friends, Kim 'Ice' Sung-dae, perished in an F-15E accident. Not allowing his death to be in vain, Abrahamson pushed through training and left as a Korean linguist, well-versed in Korean history and politics.
After struggling to learn Korean, he begged the Air Force to be stationed in Korea, but there were no open FAO billets at the time.
“So, I worked at Yongsan Garrison in Combined Forces Command (CFC) as an Intelligence Strategic Analyst, with zero Intel training - it was great,” Abrahamson said with a laugh.
After another operational F-15E tour and deployment, in 2013 he came back to Korea again and hasn’t left since.
“I was the 604th Air Support Operations Squadron (ASOS) Commander at Camp Red Cloud Garrison in Uijeongbu, providing Airpower liaison and support to the ROK-US Combined 2d Infantry Division,” Abrahamson said. “My squadron specialized in Joint Terminal Attack Controller (JTAC) management of Close Air Support (CAS) to army units. We also provided routine training to ROK Special Operations Terminal Attack Controllers (SOTAC).”
After that, it was on to Osan Air Base where he would work in the Combined Air Operations Center (CAOC) in the Combat Plans Division (CPD), and then to the Seventh Air Force to work flying training events and IG.
Although Abrahamson will have to hang up the uniform in a couple years, his impact on Korea and ties to the country will live on for generations.
“In June of 2017, our church friend contacted my English wife, Kate, and I about babysitting an abandoned baby boy,” he said.
They already had three kids and weren't looking to adopt at that time, but they didn’t give it a second thought and selflessly opened their home.
“We agreed, and Seongbin came to us the next day with only a cardboard box of diapers, onesies, and milk formula,” Abrahamson said. “We learned that he had no family able to take him, so we asked if we could adopt him. He has been a wonderful addition to our family, loved by us and our other three children, traveling with us all around Korea, and has visited his new family in both England and the U.S.”
He is hopeful that the Korean courts will grant Seongbin's adoption after years of frustrating dismissals. While they wait, they have formed a community with others who have already adopted or are trying to adopt Korean children.
Despite the adoption legal delays, Abrahamson has nothing but praise for the people of Korea and his ROKAF allies.
“It is a vibrant democratic society,” he said. “This is a country that went from Japanese occupation, to division, to being attacked by a Soviet-supported North Korea, to defending themselves, through a period of dictatorship – they should be admired for what they have achieved in terms of democracy, economically, and militarily. Their military started out as great students and now are great partners.”