She wears the pants, and flies the bomber

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She wears the pants, and flies the bomber

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From the seas to the skies, the walls of what Koreans call the “untouchable zone” for women in the military have broken down, step by step. These days, there is even talk of mandatory military service for women. But barriers persist ― some men would rather not work with women soldiers or have them promoted to high ranks. Some men even fear marrying a female soldier, which may be why such cases are rare.
The JoongAng Ilbo peeked into the newly-wed life of just such a rare couple. Here it is: the love story of “Lady Hawk and the IT guy.”

Wearing her military uniform
Married for 10 months, Lim Su-young (28) and Cho Sung-min (30) wake up together, and after a brief shower, gaze lovingly at each other across the breakfast table. But time is short, as both must get to work. As the couple dresses in front of the closet, it is not the husband, tanned and six foot tall, who takes out the military uniform. The one zipping up the pilot jumpsuit is Su-young. She still looks young enough to be mistaken for a student, but from the moment she puts on her uniform, she radiates a commanding air. Even her sweet voice that cooed “honey” moments ago, now has a deep, rough tone.
Su-young is a captain, having graduated from the Air Force Academy. She is highly-qualified as a fighter pilot and flies an observer aircraft, which is crucial in spearheading operations because it designates targets for the attack planes. Su-young was the top cadet among the women who enrolled in the Air Force Academy in 1997, the year the school first accepted women. After six years of rigorous training, she earned a “red scarf,” the traditional emblem of the Korean Air Force.
And what about her husband, Sung-min? He majored in architecture at university, and now designs computer software at a wireless phone manufacturer. He’s an “IT guy.” An office worker husband and a military officer wife is an unusual match. “Who knew I would end up with a soldier? Let alone a pilot,” said Sungmin with a laugh.

In love with a civilian
Su-young has eighteen female alumna at the Air Force Academy. Including her, seven of them are married. But she is the only one who married a civilian. “All the other cadets envy me, saying our marriage is a very desirable military-civilian union,” Su-young said proudly.
Su-young met her future husband through his brother, who back in 2003 was a technical sergeant working with first lieutenant Lim. He thought that his ladylike senior officer would be a perfect match for his brother Sung-min. The setup did not go smoothly at first ― she blew him off once and was two hours late for the second date. Sung-min wasn’t enthusiastic either. “I only went because my brother kept badgering me. I was a bit offended that day, but for some reason I kept wondering about her. I stole her number from my brother’s cell phone and called to ask how her first solo flight went. That’s what brought us together.”
Sung-min cannot forget the day he introduced his new girlfriend to his friends. “Usually, when men talk about their military service, women get bored. But the moment I introduced Su-young she asked my friends which division they served in and could pinpoint the exact locations of their divisions. She hit it off with them, joining in on tales of Choco-pies (a popular military snack) and ppogeuri (eating instant ramen directly from the package).”

First son of five generations vs. the captain
After two years of dating, the couple got married last December. Since Su-young always has to be on standby, the newlyweds settled into a military residence, which took some adjusting for Sung-min. For starters, his office is on the opposite side of Seoul, a three hour commute. One night, returning late from a company dinner, the sentry held him at gunpoint, demanding a password to enter the base. “I didn’t know all I had to do was say I was a military family member,” he said.
As all couples do, they also squabble over housework. The rule is “the person with free time does the housework,” but with all her training, Su-young is much busier than most career women. Also, after living in residence halls for many years, she is clumsy with chores. Meanwhile, Sung-min is adept at cooking and laundry because he lived alone during college, so the housework tends to be left with him. This resulted in a war between the IT guy and the Air Force captain: “I did all the housework the day before, and she commanded me to fold laundry.” “It was a favor, and I felt bad when he got angry.”
But this was their only serious quarrel. Usually they get along fine, to the envy of others. Sometimes, Sung-min, who served in a front line army unit, jokingly picks on the relatively relaxed atmosphere of the rear guard Air Force. “In my unit, the salutes of soldiers filled the skies when a senior officer passed by, but in the Air Force...”
“A loud voice doesn’t necessarily reflect military discipline,” Su-young replied.

“We keep house together”
Before marriage, the only household work Su-young could do was washing dishes. But Sung-min taught her to cook a passable version of kimchi stew. Su-young also taught her husband how to drive. Although he has a driver’s license, he has few chances to use it. Su-young insisted that her teaching methods were kind and caring, but the student begs to differ. “They say couples shouldn’t give driving lessons to each other, because they end up fighting. I almost quit, she was so hard on me,” Sung-min said, laughing.
Even their teaching and learning patterns are different from most couples, but they care about each other as much as anyone. Sung-min always remembers to tell Su-young the weather forecast on days she flies. Su-young marvels at how organized her husband is.
For the photo shoot, the couple walked up the runway. To put the sky in the background, the couple climbed onto the plane’s wings. Sung-min joked, “Finally! I’m on my wife’s plane! Well, literally, anyway.”
They gave a smart reply to a stupid comment: “Since the wife defends the country, I guess it’s up to the husband to protect the family?”
“No way,” they both said. “Family is a joint responsibility!”


by Nam Koong-wook
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