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Life on a COB

  • Published
  • By Master Sgt. Rachelle Morris
  • Seventh Air Force Public Affairs

Part of the appeal of coming to the Republic of Korea, or any overseas assignment, can be the great unknown - for those stationed on contingency operating bases (COBs), that experience is significantly intensified.

The comforts of a traditional installation often don’t exist, but what isn’t found in amenities can be made up for in camaraderie. 

“We only have each other,” said Staff Sgt. Leilani Michel, 607th Material Maintenance Squadron, Detachment 1, services representative. “We are so close - it’s like a family and we all help each other out.”

At Gwangju Air Base, ROK, an installation meant to support hundreds, 26 Airmen are responsible for the upkeep of 250 acres of War Reserve Material (WRM) facilities and equipment. It isn’t uncommon for the Airmen to do their job and the job of someone else.

“I am currently helping medical with water testing,” said Michel. “I am also filling in for the Airman Dorm Leader (ADL) while they are in quarantine.”

The Airmen assigned at Gwangju AB are from a myriad of backgrounds.

“We have nine functional area – communications, civil engineering, maintenance, munitions, fuels, supply, services, security forces and vehicle maintenance,” said Capt. Min Kim, 607th MMS, Det. 1, commander. “Within those areas we have 22 different AFSCs (Air Force Specialty Codes).”

The base was first stood up in 1968 in response to North Korean aggressions and today, stands in ROK’s sixth largest city. In 2010, it changed to a cold status meaning there were no permanent party assigned.

Airmen would have to Temporary Duty (TDY) there for a couple weeks at a time to make sure everything was still functioning. Master Sgt. Sunny Downes, 607th MMS, Det. 1, senior enlisted leader (SEL,) was among them.

“The last time I was in Korea, I TDY’d here 19 times in one year,” she said.

In 2018, Gwangju became a COB and Downes was excited to return as permanent party - so much so that she even extended.  She currently wears three hats and is the SEL, aircraft maintenance lead and tank Quality Assurance Personnel (QAP).

“My favorite part is being the SEL,” she said. “I get to deal with the people and learning their part of the mission. It gives me bigger oversight.”

She also loves being more engaged in the Korean culture.

“Because we are so isolated form everything, we get more immersed in the community,” Downes said. “I go off base to do my grocery shopping and if you tell me what type of food you like, I can tell you where the best restaurant is.”

You can feel the jovial spirit and an overwhelming sense of empowerment across the COB. If animals could speak, you might even it confirm it with their pet rooster, El Diablo II.

“This is a gem,” said Kim. “It is a different vibe out here.”