U.S. Air Force Col. Kim “KC” Campbell, EAA 1313778, who flew the Fairchild Republic A-10 Thunderbolt II in the Middle East and earned the Distinguished Flying Cross in 2003, will be speaking about her career and experiences in the “Warthog” cockpit on Thursday, August 19, at 7 p.m. as part of the EAA Aviation Museum Aviation Adventure Speaker Series. This is the first Speaker Series event since the COVID-19 pandemic put in-person events at the EAA museum on pause beginning in March 2020.
Kim’s interest in aviation began back in 1986 when she was watching TV coverage of the space shuttle Challenger disaster. Despite the tragedy and the fact that seven astronauts lost their lives that day, it inspired Kim.
“I decided after watching the Challenger launch, watching it and I think realizing at that moment that the astronauts died doing something that they believed in, that they felt strongly about and this thrill of the unknown and adventure, I decided that I wanted to follow in their footsteps and be an astronaut,” she explained. “I talked to my parents about the best way to do that, and we had had a conversation about being a pilot in the Air Force and being a fighter pilot and that was a pretty good way to go. In fifth grade I decided that I was going to go to the Air Force Academy and become a fighter pilot, and then go on to be an astronaut.”
Kim followed her dream of attending the Air Force Academy, graduating No. 7 in her class in 1997, attended graduate school for two years, and went on to pilot training after that. Excelling in pilot training, Kim performed well enough to enter the fighter aircraft track and chose the close air support and ground-attack-oriented A-10 primarily because of its mission.
“I realized that I really enjoyed the low level routes during pilot training. I really enjoyed that aspect of flying. But I also started talking to people about the mission of the A-10, and what appealed to me was being able to support our troops on the ground and the mission of close air support and being able to bring our troops home safely really appealed to me. I just really thought that the mission was important and something, going back to the Challenger, right? Something that I would be willing to give my life for, something that was bigger than me and more important than me.”
Kim finished pilot training in 2000, and was actually in the midst of A-10 training on September 11, 2001. She finished A-10 training in December of that year and was deployed to Afghanistan in 2002. In 2003, in the early stages of the Iraq War, KC earned the Distinguished Flying Cross for “outstanding heroism and selfless devotion to duty.”
“Our mission during Operation Iraqi Freedom was to provide close air support for the troops on the ground,” Kim said. “On April 7, 2003, I was assigned to go provide close air support over downtown Baghdad, and we got a call about troops in a contact situation where our troops on the ground were taking a fire and needed immediate assistance. My flight lead and I were able to provide them the support that they needed. On my last pass, as I was coming off target, I got hit with a surface-to-air missile. But I was able to successfully bring the airplane back for a safe landing 300 miles away back at our home base in Kuwait. That’s the 30-second version.”
Since then, Kim has bounced around to various assignments in the Air Force. She spent four years at Pope Air Force Base going back and forth between Afghanistan and Iraq until 2005, then went to the 422nd Test and Evaluation Squadron at Nellis Air Force Base, where she transitioned from the A-10A to the A-10C and led testing on the new variant. Between 2009 and 2012, Kim held various positions at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, including director of operations for the 357th Fighter Squadron and commander of the 355th Operations Support Squadron. Between August 2012 and June 2016, she was in Washington D.C., including an assignment in the Office of the Secretary of Defense in the Pentagon for two years as military assistant to the Under Secretary of Defense for Policy. Following that assignment, Kim returned to Davis-Monthan as commander of the 612th Theater Operations Group and 474th Air Expeditionary Group. Since July 2018, she has worked at the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado as the chair of airpower innovation and integration within the Department of Military and Strategic Studies.
Thursday’s event is free for EAA members and youth 18 and under, and just $5 for nonmembers.