1st Space Force Guardian receives Arctic Service Medal
KIRTLAND AFB, N.M. (AFRL) – Capt. Henry Cho made history as the first U.S. Space Force Guardian to receive the Coast Guard Arctic Service Medal by spending 21 freezing cold days in the Arctic aboard the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Healy (WAGB-20).
“I never imagined I’d have this opportunity when I joined the Space Force, but it’s humbling to pave the way forward for my fellow Guardians,” Cho said. “I appreciate the opportunity to travel and see the spectacular views of the Arctic region onboard the Healy while assisting with monitoring our experiment onboard.”
According to Senior Research Physicist Dr. Jeffrey Holmes, AFRL developed an ionospheric sounder that makes measurements to characterize the ionosphere overhead. Installing the ionospheric sounder on the Healy allowed AFRL scientists to characterize the ionosphere in the Arctic region, which is difficult to measure from land and space. Characterizing the ionosphere allows researchers to better understand its radio properties. The project is a collaboration between AFRL, the Air Force Institute of Technology and the USCG Research and Development Center and is sponsored in part by the Air Force Office of Scientific Research.
“Capt. Cho was an indispensable member of AFRL’s Flex Sounder team, as he was the key operator of the instrument aboard the Healy. He proved to be a quick learner and an adept troubleshooter,” Holmes said. “Capt. Cho’s efforts helped the team secure rare and valuable data that will be used in the coming years to plan next-generation high latitude ionospheric impacts solutions for the warfighter.”
Since childhood, Cho had an affinity for space. His first exposure occurred when his father took him on a tour of the Jet Propulsion Lab in Pasadena, California, where he quickly realized his passion for space.
Cho studied Aerospace Engineering at the University of Michigan Ann Arbor, effectively launching his Space Force career, and later interned at NASA Kennedy Space Center before commissioning into the U.S. Air Force in 2016.
“I decided to join the military for a variety of complicated reasons, but I had the maturity to realize I had more growing up to do,” Cho said. “At the time, I wanted a sense of adventure, but I also felt like I was out of options. There is a higher level of satisfaction when life circumstances choose for you than if you were presented with multiple pathways and wondered what could have been in the other paths. Looking back, joining the military was the best decision I could have made because it supported personal and professional development that I could not have found anywhere else.”
Cho transferred from the Air Force to the Space Force in 2021.
“At AFRL, I work on multiple projects, all related to atmosphere characterization,” Cho added. “In research and development, every step has a learning curve because in a large sense, research and development involves trying new things for the first time, such as designing and building something new—new processes, new materials, new design—so a lot of time is spent reading, thinking, and writing. But eventually we have to implement and be comfortable with taking a risk on some level of ambiguity.”
As for the future, Cho is interested in seeking travel opportunities within his career. “The most valuable thing I’m looking for is travel experiences,” Cho said. “It’s physically demanding but highly rewarding. I look for unconventional, eccentric and eclectic life experiences, and I can only obtain them by traveling.”
According to the Coast Guard Military Medals and Awards Manual, the Coast Guard Arctic Service Medal is awarded to any member who serves in any Coast Guard mission north of the Arctic Circle or has served aboard a Coast Guard vessel operating in polar waters north of latitude 60 degrees North, specifically in the Bering Sea, Davis Strait or Denmark Strait. The minimum time requirement is 21 non-consecutive days under competent orders and only one award per year is authorized.
The Air Force Research Laboratory, or AFRL, is the primary scientific research and development center for the Department of the Air Force. AFRL plays an integral role in leading the discovery, development, and integration of affordable warfighting technologies for our air, space, and cyberspace force. With a workforce of more than 12,500 across nine technology areas and 40 other operations across the globe, AFRL provides a diverse portfolio of science and technology ranging from fundamental to advanced research and technology development. For more information, visit: www.afresearchlab.com.