By Staff Sgt. Mark A. MooreJune 1, 2015
While serving with 4th Battalion, 31st Infantry Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division (LI), and with less than two years of military service Shin graduated the U.S. Army Ranger School at Fort Benning, Ga., March 6.
Shin spent his first eight years living with his family in Seoul, South Korea, but only had a little exposure to military life and the tide of events that would send the United States into the Global War on Terror.
He recalls three childhood experiences that would later influence his decision to serve his country.
His memories of his father's military uniforms and equipment stayed with him throughout his life and inspired him.
"My Father had to serve two years but decided to serve a total of four," said Shin. "He told me he was in the army, however I recall seeing only a few military items."
The second moment was when Shin was seven years old, he remembered hanging out at the super market with his friends and watching television. They saw the World Trade Center buildings collapse on the television. At the time he didn't understand, that he thought it was a cartoon.
One year later Shin and his family moved to the United States.
"When I was eight, back in 2002, my Mom and Dad made the decision that me, my mother, and my sister to come to the United State for educational purposes," said Shin.
Shin's understanding of the world around him was still limited, but over time his knowledge would grow.
"When I came to America I had no idea about the war and the stuff going around. Towards middle school I started finding out, then in high school I realized the war was still going on and that the towers falling in 2001 was a real thing."
His high school years brought clarity to a situation shrouded in haze for many years, it was also the birth of a relationship, the founding of a mentor, and the discovery of guidance that would propel him into military service.
Michael D. White, then principal at Pioneer High School, Ann Arbor, Mich., and former Army Ranger, would help map out Shin's military future.
"My high school principle was a Ranger, he served in a Ranger battalion, and served in Panama," said Shin excitedly. "He helped me decide what branch to go into after I graduated high school,"
This is what Shin inspired to be, an Army Ranger serving in a Ranger regiment.
Shin observed his principal, the way he handled himself and how he put an end to frequent violence.
"Not only did I respect the way he taught, but I respected his rules and discipline," stated Shin. "Before (Whites arrival) when my sister went to school (there) the principal didn't have control over the high school. There were a lot of fights, when White came in everything changed, he cleaned up the high school."
High school graduation day grew nearer and Shin's love for his new country and desire to follow in his principal's footsteps grew stronger.
He wanted more than ever to become an American citizen and join the Army. A decision that contradicted everything his mother and father wanted for him.
"When I told my mother about my decision to enlist in the military she was devastated," explained Shin shaking his head. I don't think any mother wants to hear her son is enlisting as an infantryman in the Army."
The following months were filled with arguments and debates about the benefits of attending a university rather than donning on a military uniform.
"At the time she really didn't understand my decision, she didn't understand why I just didn't want to go to Michigan University like my sister," stated Shin. "She didn't understand because this was not my nationality, I was not an American."
But Shin saw great honor in serving his country and stood fast in his decision to join.
"There were still people dying, there were still people fighting for this country, and there were still bad guys out there," Shin said firmly. "I knew that I wanted to be in the military, I wanted to serve, and I wanted to do something different instead of going to college."
A few months before joining the Army, Shin passed his citizenship exam and accepted a job as an infantryman.
Upon arrival at basic training he continued his fight for a chance to attend Ranger school, earn the coveted tab, and serve in a Ranger regiment.
"While I was at basic I requested to attend the Ranger Assessment Program (RAP), unfortunately my general technical score didn't meet that standard yet."
Temporarily shelving his ambitions to attend Ranger school and report to a regiment, Shin absorbed all the infantry training he could, knowing that it would help him later.
Shin graduated basic training and reported to Company B, 4-31st IN. Reg. in November 2013.
A day later he took the Army Physical Fitness test and scored a perfect 300.
Shin's first line leaders were so impressed with his physical abilities that they offered him the next available slot at the Fort Drum pre-ranger selection course.
"…I was like 'this is a huge opportunity if they are going to send me,'" explained Shin. "I felt really blessed and thankful for this opportunity."
In February 2014 Shin entered the physically and mentally challenging weeklong course, pitting him against the Ranger Physical Fitness Test, a land navigation course, a water obstacle course, and a 12-mile foot march.
Shin completed the pre-ranger course and returned to his unit where he would continue to train on small unit tactics in preparation for Ranger school in July.
"Then I knew that the only thing I had to worry about now was getting my Ranger tab," said Shin.
Confident words spoken at the time, but Shin didn't expect to fail land navigation within three days of arriving at Fort Benning, Ga.
"I remember running around in circles trying to find this one point before I headed back in," he explained. "You have to find four out of five points in five hours. I had a whole hour left, I was near the point and the finish line was less than 800 meters away. The point just wasn't there."
Exhausted from his fruitless search efforts, Shin collapsed in the grass.
"I remembered just lying down, he said with a chuckle. Just looking up, I felt really bad because not only did I fail myself, I failed my unit and my peers."
Returning to Fort Drum he found more change, Shin moved to the Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 4-31 IN. Reg. to perform his duties as an infantryman.
Shin's new supervisors understood the difficulties of passing the course, recognized his potential, and despite his young age, were willing to give him another chance.
"He failed land navigation down there, but we sent him back as soon as we could because we knew he was going to pass," explained his team leader Staff Sgt. Thomas Gregg. "His age and experience didn't matter when it came to ranger school because he had the dedication, the drive, and the knowledge. We knew he would be successful."
The move proved to be advantageous because he was able to attend the infantry scout course offered by his new company. The course kept Shin physically fit and allowed him to practice land navigation.
"When scouts do their selection they basically complete the same events as pre-ranger," Shin explained. "We did the Ranger physical fitness assessment, Mountain Athlete Warrior assessment, land navigation, and 12-mile foot march."
Passing the assessment and moving to the scout platoon, Shin asked about going to Ranger School again.
This time the doors didn't open quickly because the company's deployment training events filled the calendar.
"I could not accept no as an answer. A lot of people were telling me, you can't go, we are too busy right now, and we don't have the time," said Shin. "But you can't take no for an answer, if you really want it you have to go get it."
Determined to attend Ranger School, Shin remained proficient with the help of his team leader.
Shin passed the pre-ranger course and had two months before he went to Ranger School. So Gregg created a list of tasks to help Shin's skills remained sharp.
Throughout the months Shin practiced taking apart and putting back together multiple weapons systems, emplacing anti-personnel mines, and conducted the Ranger physical fitness tests to improve his fitness level.
Finally an opportunity presented itself and Shin clamored at the chance to prove his mettle.
Shin, a master of the pre-requisites easily passed the Fort Drum pre-ranger course and returned to Ranger School for the final time in November 2014. This time he had a plan to use the holiday leave period to his advantage.
"I planned out everything," Shin described. "Get through the first and second phases, go home for two weeks, come back refreshed and knock out the third phase."
In theory his plan seemed solid. However, fate had something else in store.
"I failed patrols in the second phase. What that meant was I had to wait an additional four weeks before a new class would begin in December, which was like prison."
Confined to the hold over area, Shin spent his days reading books, cleaning the barracks, performing yard work, and practicing patrol tactics until Christmas block leave.
Shin's leave passed and when he returned he quickly fell back into the routine of Ranger school. Creating terrain models, preparing for missions and patrolling, accomplishing missions and resting when he could.
"I remembered day one of our ten day field training exercise, just going up that mountain did a big toll on my legs, I felt every single muscle," he explained. The first couple of days we hardly slept, every day just waking up my muscles were really tense."
Shin fought through the days and at night would silently say a prayer asking for protection of his fellow ranger students.
Nearing the end of Mountain Phase he noticed something was not right.
"For some reason that night I felt really shaky, people were really tired by then and some guys weren't looking to hot. In my head I said I really wanted to pray as a group but I didn't know how to bring it up."
Shin's instructor sounded the two minute warning, he knew it was now or never.
"Out loud to my platoon I asked if anyone wanted to pray with me and at that moment 20 dudes huddled around me and I prayed for God to watch over us Rangers," he said. "At the end of the march everyone had completed it and a few guys thanked me. Every time after that we prayed before each mission."
Shin recalls that moment as being one of his most memorable, aside from the day his mother placed his Ranger Tab on his shoulder.
"Finally graduating was a really great feeling," Shin said smiling. "My family came down for graduation."
"My mom is really supportive, she came for my graduation which is one of the biggest moments of my career so far," he explained. "She knew how important getting my Ranger Tab in the military was and having the opportunity so early in my career was amazing."