8th Fighting Wing makes sure incoming airmen get personal greeting upon arrival at Kunsan
KUNSAN AIR BASE, South Korea — When the big white charter plane touched down here on a hazy afternoon Thursday, Senior Airman Sasha Lewis felt sad.
Lewis, 21, of Timber Ridge, N.M., was one of 163 airmen who’d just flown to South Korea from the United States aboard a “Patriot” flight to start a one-year tour with the 8th Fighter Wing here.
Lewis was setting foot on strange soil — the 650-acre fighter base at the waters of the West Sea lies 100 miles south of Korea’s Demilitarized Zone. It’s home to the wing that proudly calls itself The Wolf Pack, a nickname dating to the Vietnam War.
But Lewis wanted to be home.
Enter the Wolf Pack welcome.
As she and the other airmen made their way down the passenger ramp, they saw below a line of 14 Wolf Pack senior officers and senior noncommissioned officers, all in green camouflaged BDU uniforms, smiling a big welcome as pumped-up rock music blared from speakers at the back of a nearby truck.
“Welcome to the Wolf Pack,” said the officer at the head of the line, Col. William Coutts, the 8th Fighter Wing’s vice commander. With the wing commander on leave, Coutts was the first greeter.
As the airmen, mostly in their 20s and 30s and wearing jeans and T-shirts, reached the tarmac, each waiting official shook their hands and welcomed them to the Wolf Pack.
“I felt welcomed,” said the soft-spoken Lewis, “even though I was really sad. … It does really play a big role in how one person feels … gives them hope they’ll be all right.”
That’s the idea behind the greeting ceremony, the wing’s leaders said. The Wolf Pack is proud of its tradition of making sure its new arrivals are given a distinct, deliberate welcome. On those Thursdays when the Patriot brings in another planeload of new arrivals, wing officials make the welcoming ceremony priority business, Coutts said in an interview.
“Everyone just plans around it,” he said. “It’s the most important thing on Thursday. … As far as I know, we’re the only people in the Air Force” who greet new arrivals in this way.
The tradition is a legacy of The Wolf Pack’s Vietnam War days, when it was the 8th Tactical Fighter Wing based at Ubon Airfield, Thailand, commanded by then-Col. Robin Olds.
“This is the story,” said Coutts. Olds and five enlisted men were flown to the airfield where Olds was to begin as wing commander. It was night, said Coutts.
“They dropped Col. Olds and those five enlisted guys on the end of the runway, and no one there to meet ’em,” he said.
An enlisted man happened by in a jeep; Olds hailed him for a lift.
“Yeah, sure buddy, throw your stuff in the back,” the driver answered.
Olds replied, “Well, you probably shouldn’t call me buddy. I’m the new wing commander.”
The driver took them to where they needed to go.
“And Col. Olds said that will never happen again to a member of The Wolf Pack,” said Coutts. “That’s the story behind it. … That’s what Col. Olds told me.”
“I think it’s great,” said Senior Airman James Lanicek, 25, a munitions airman who, like Lewis, is newly assigned to Kunsan’s 8th Maintenance Squadron. “Because most places when you get shipped in, there’s like one person — if that — waiting. … We’re new in this place; we don’t know where to go or anything.”
It also worked for Senior Airman Chris Davis, 25, of Midland, Mich., also a munitions airman assigned to the 8th Maintenance Squadron.
Davis had heard about the Wolf Pack’s tradition of welcoming the Patriot flight.
“It was definitely nice getting here seeing people,” he said. “It makes you feel a little more comfortable, like you’re not walking in blind.”