Did you have any local jobs? Where else might we have seen you?
During high school I worked at Rahilly’s IGA. It was my first job and I still have great memories of working there. I don’t get to visit Newberry often now-a-days, but when I do I always make a trip to Rahilly’s to see how the place has changed. I did read an article in this very paper, a few weeks back, that Rahilly’s was celebrating 100 years in business, so congrats to them! I’ll always remember my first job. Newberry sports fans would probably recognize me from my time on the Track & Field and Cross Country teams. I had a pretty decent high school career in Newberry and went on to run at Alpena Community College for some time, but my Air Force career cut short my stint as a collegiate runner.
What did you do after graduating from NHS in 1997? How did you make your way into the Air Force?
I graduated in 1997 and went to college for a year and half before I decided to join the Air Force in February 1999. Initially I just wanted a break from schooling and my brother (Lee Cornell) had joined the Air Force straight out of high school. I thought I might have some opportunities to travel in the Air Force while also continuing my education, but after the events of September 11th, 2001, I quickly decided that I would make a career out of the Air Force.
Describe your Air Force career. How long were you in? What did you do?
My time in the Air Force was hard, but so extremely rewarding that I would never wish to go back and do anything else. I spent the first three years after 9/11 nearly constantly deployed. I barely saw U.S. soil during that time, and I would go on to deploy many times after that as well. In total, I deployed in support of the War on Terrorism eleven times. I was sent to Iraq, Afghanistan, Italy, Germany, Qatar, Turkey, and several other locations for shorter periods of time. I definitely got more than I bargained for when I joined the Air Force to travel. The deployments started to slow down towards the end of my career but I still took other assignments overseas, including Korea on multiple occasions. I just retired in February 2019 after 20 years of service in the Intelligence career field.
Where do you live now, and what is your current job?
I retired out of Beale Air Force Base, in northern California and I found a position working on the base here as a contractor. I do the same type of work as I did while I wore the uniform, but now I have to choose what clothes to wear every day. That’s a more difficult transition than it sounds after wearing the same uniform to work for twenty years! My family and I just bought a house here up in the foothills and we enjoy it.
Tell me about your family. How did you meet your wife, Hyunji? What is a Korean-American household like?
Speaking of family. I met a lovely lady in Korea during one of my tours and I decided to trick her into marrying me. Her name in Korean is 유현지. In English it is Lyu Hyunji (Say it as: “You” “Hee-un-jee”). Korean names are written with their last names first, so the English version of her married name is Hyunji Cornell. Hyunji is a little bit tricky to say for most Americans, so you can do what my Grandpa Cecil does, and call her “Honey,” which is close enough in our book! We met in a small town outside of the base. I had picked up enough of the Korean language to ask her out to a movie, but it turned out that wasn’t necessary because she speaks English nearly as well as I do. I always liked traveling to Korea, but I loved it even more after meeting my wife. I got to meet her mom and grandparents. I learned a ton about Korean culture and a side of history from the Korean War that I would never have seen otherwise. I learned a lot from her, and I still do today. She’s the best. Our household is a mix of cultures but we’re mostly like every other American family. We eat a mix of foods, but my wife is an amazing cook and we do often eat some delicious Korean dishes like Bulgogi (marinated beef), Samgyupsal (pork belly), and Bibimbap (mixed bowl of rice, veggies, & meat). It’s all delicious. Hyunji has been to the U.P. on a few occasions, and now she also loves pasties, deep-fried fish, and pickled eggs!
Now that you’ve seen the world, how do you feel about growing up in the U.P.?
When I was younger, like so many others before me, I really wanted to leave the U.P. and go experience the world at large. Having spent so much time traveling around the globe, however, has given me a great new perspective on growing up in the U.P. I have a huge, new appreciation for the type of lifestyle and life lessons that the U.P. can give a person. Life is a lot slower and more peaceful in the U.P., which I know may seem boring and trivial at times to people on the outside-looking-in. It can also give a person a very grounded, common sense-type perspective on issues and matters that, quite frankly, a lot of people in the rest of the country lack. I always love my trips back to the U.P. I try to make it home every year for our family reunions in July, but over the years I’ve only been able to make it every 2 to 3 years. We will be home this July, though, if the COVID-19 threat allows us to!
When you’re not analyzing intelligence, how do you spend your free time?
Semi-retired life has given me some extra time to enjoy some of the things I never had time for, but my favorite part of every day is just spending extra time with my wife and child. We have a 3-year-old (in May) boy named Henry who has just been an amazing blessing. He was diagnosed recently with autism, but he’s such a smart, vibrant little boy that, unless you looked really hard, you might not ever know that he was struggling with anything. I try to devote all my spare moments to him, which is an amazing privilege for me. Henry has taught my wife and me a lot over the past few years and I’m really looking forward to seeing what he can do in preschool this year! I do a bit of personal study at home when I can as well and like to read. I’m currently reading a book called “How to Hide an Empire” by Daniel Immerwahr which I think is an incredible perspective on American History. I’m also binge watching a Netflix show called the Expanse which is a really cool Sci-Fi show that a lot of people from Game of Thrones in Outer Space. It’s very cool.
What are you guys doing to make this time of quarantine more interesting?
COVID-19 hasn’t really affected our family much yet. I’m still working day-to-day here on the military base, and although California has been particularly hard-hit by the disease, the area I live in isn’t currently on curfew or stay-at-home status. When I’m at home, it’s a lot of daddy time with Henry, and chores outside. Currently I’m working on tending to our grape vines for the summer season. We’ve recently started making and bottling some homemade wine which…also helps pass the time while we’re at home!