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Profiles in leadership - Maj. Gen. Michael Kim

  • Published
  • By 2nd Lt. Jinny Lang
  • 4th Combat Camera Squadron

Maj. Gen. Michael Kim admits he was “fat, dumb and happy flying airplanes” as a reservist and full-time employee of Delta Airlines when a mentor decided he could do something more.

"Someone saw something in me and they said, ‘Hey, you know, you could become a squadron commander,’” said Kim, mobilization assistant to the commander of U.S. Transportation Command at Scott Air Force Base, Illinois. “When I became a squadron commander, that opened more doors to me than I ever thought would open for me. I think back at the time - being a squadron commander was the best job I ever had in the Air Force.”
Kim joined the Air Force through the Reserve Officer Training Corps program at the University of Maryland, College Park. After almost 15 years on active duty, Kim had a wealth of experience as both a command pilot and flight examiner.  He was working at a classic associate unit -- one where reservists operated the C-17 Globemaster aircraft alongside active-duty Airmen -- when he saw an opportunity to make a change. 

“I wanted to serve.  I wanted to fly the C-17 and do my part for the Air Force, but then I thought, ‘You know, I can maybe broaden myself by going to the airline and going into that world,’ so since the airlines were hiring, I decided to make the move,” Kim said.

He became a Delta pilot and transitioned to the Air Force Reserve in July 1997, serving as a pilot and C-17 flight examiner with the 317th Airlift Squadron at Charleston AFB, South Carolina.          

Mentors in the Reserve saw potential in Kim and took the time to groom him as a senior leader.  That first opportunity as a squadron commander at the 317th was a turning point in his career.

“He was one of the best squadron commanders I’ve ever seen,” said Lt. Col. Bill Walsh, who served under Kim as a captain. “He was great with the Airmen, from the E-1 all the way up to the O-6 and beyond.  He treats everybody with dignity and respect.”
Retired Chief Master Sgt. Benson Futrell, who was the first sergeant at the 317th under Kim as a master sergeant, said he was “very impressed” with his commander’s team-focused leadership style. 

“The mission is first, but he understands that if you instill teamwork and give the people the tools, time, training and support, the mission will be accomplished,” Futrell said.
Kim went on to serve as vice commander at Charleston’s 315th Airlift Wing and vice commander of 22nd Air Force at Dobbins Air Reserve Base, Georgia. He said he understands and appreciates the role the current reserve wing structure played in his rise up the ranks.

Some have suggested that the Air Force adopt integrated wings where reservists and active duty members serve under a combined wing structure.  As the Air Force moves forward, senior leaders are looking to find the most effective balance between active duty and Reserve.  Having worked on both sides, Kim said he believes the balance is already working.
“I grew up in an associate unit and the interaction, the interoperability, between the two was very seamless and we worked very well together,” Kim said, who added that his only concern is in fully supporting reservists and maintaining the path to senior leadership.

“Having it separate, where you’ve got a separate reserve wing, a separate reserve squadron and the like, you give reservists, like myself, an opportunity to become leaders at the squadron level, at the wing level, at the group level, at the NAF level, that I don’t think would be available as much if you were totally integrated.”
In addition to being a mobilization assistant, Kim serves as director of the Reserve Component Directorate and as commander of the Joint Transportation Reserve Unit. He leads all traditional reservists from each service at USTRANSCOM and advises the commander, Gen. Paul J. Selva, regarding Reserve component policy, guidance and developments that affect 88,000 reservists who support the global USTRANSCOM mission.
When he’s not juggling his three military duties, Kim enjoys flying on the civilian side, now for UPS, although it can be a challenge going back and forth between his two careers.
“It’s a delicate balance where you spend a week or two at TRANSCOM, depending on what the mission is like, and you know, balancing that with my civilian career with the airline.”
Overall, Kim said, he’s “been very blessed” in having joined the Reserve. He has served in the Air Force for 33 years, but said he’s not ready to retire yet.
“If offered the opportunity to other leadership positions, I would hop on it in a heartbeat.  If they want me to do it, I’m ready to serve.”