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Verndale woman's son on base in South Korea

Air Force Tech. Sgt. Dale Sickels is an air traffic controller assigned to the 8th Operations Support Squadron at Kunsan Air Base, South Korea. Sickels is spending a year at this remote assignment located on the southwest coast of South Korea.1 / 7
Soldiers check a Patriot Battery System to ensure its readiness to defend the Kunsan Air Base from attacks. Readiness is what service members here practice every day. (Photo by Michael Tolzmann)2 / 7
Air Force airmen perform a maintenance check on an F-16 Fighting Falcon at Kunsan Air Base, South Korea. Strategically located on the Southwest coast of South Korea, Airmen and aircraft have to be ready to fight at a moment's notice. (Photo by Michael Tolzmann)3 / 7
Air Force security forces airmen check identification of everyone who enters the place at the main gate to Kunsan Air Base, South Korea. South Korean security forces also work the main gate and work hand-in-hand with U.S. forces to provide security for the base. (Photo by Michael Tolzmann)4 / 7
An Air Force F-15 Eagle lands after its mission at Kunsan Air Base, South Korea. The F-15 routinely rotates in from stateside bases for training here. The F-16 is the main aircraft at Kunsan. (Photo by Michael Tolzmann)5 / 7
An F-16 Fighting Falcon and an F-15 Eagle are checked out prior to takeoff at Kunsan Air Base, South Korea.6 / 7
Two F-16 Fighting Falcons and an F-15 Eagle are checked out prior to takeoff at Kunsan Air Base, South Korea. (Photo by Michael Tolzmann)7 / 7

There are few places more remote and farther from the familiarity and comforts of home back in the United States than Kunsan Air Base on the Southwest coast of South Korea. The son of a Verndale woman is spending a year of his life experiencing the realities of a 60-year-old war and life at one of the Air Force's most isolated assignments.

Air Force Tech. Sgt. Dale Sickels, son of Margaret Sickels of Verndale, is assigned to the 8th Fighter Wing, an F-16 unit responsible for protecting the sky against a potential enemy less than 100 miles away.

Sickels is an air traffic controller with the 8th Operations Support Squadron.

"I control air traffic in the control tower here," said Sickels, who graduated in 1996 from Mukwonago High School in Mukwonago, Wis. "We have military and civilian aircraft using our runway, and our mission is to provide a safe and expeditious flow of traffic in our airspace."

Kunsan is often referred to as "the last warrior base." In the event hostilities between North and South Korean were to increase, Kunsan would be thrown into the limelight as center stage for coordinating any efforts to battle an invasion.

The service members at Kunsan and its location allow for time the U.S. and Korean forces to prepare a timely, well-prepared response to any threat in the region. Their mission is to fight, defend the base, accept reinforcements and push the battle north.

"We ensure the three flying squadrons at Kunsan can meet their mission flights and training requirements, which include reaching practice ranges during scheduled times, providing practice approaches and receive their flight plans prior to leaving," said Sickels.

However, even though defending the base is a 24-hour 365-day mission, service members here do have an opportunity to experience what Korea and its people have to offer.

"Korea is a very interesting country," said Sickels. "Everything about interacting with their culture is an experience and opens my eyes to how people live differently than Americans. The food is vastly different. The land is beautiful, mountainous and lush."

Sickels has been in the Air Force for more than 12 years. Sickels was an F-16 Fighting Falcon mechanic for seven years prior to becoming an air traffic controller.

For service members here, life at Kunsan Air Base can be hard and rewarding; whether it's putting in long hours preparing missions to experiencing what the Korean culture has to offer can bring a service member here an experience they will remember for years to come.