YOUNGSTOWN AIR RESERVE STATION, Ohio --
A thunderous applause fills the room as the winner of the 5th biennial Port Dawg Challenge is announced. Shouts of excitement, high fives and hugs capture the highly charged emotional winning moment for Youngstown Air Reserve Station’s 76th Aerial Port Squadron.
For one of the members of the 76th APS PDC team, it could not be more earned. A journey of starting at the bottom and rising to the top as the leader of the championship team.
Master Sgt. Tae Choe, 76th PDC team chief, who has served in the Air Force for 11 years, has worked his way through the ranks of the PDC. He started in 2015 as a non-team member training with the team. He became a team member in 2017 and became the team leader in 2019.
“It was a natural progression for him,” said Senior Master Sgt. Brian Mitchell, 2012 PDC team chief and head trainer from 2015 to 2019. “He has always been very good at everything he does, in a quiet sort of way.”
The 2015 PDC win inspired Choe to participate in the event in the future.
“I was first affiliated with the PDC as support,” said Choe. “I wanted to figure out what it was since I have never experienced one. Winning the 2015 PDC was awesome and a cool feeling and I wanted to replicate that.”
In 2017, Choe was fresh off a military deployment overseas before participating in the PDC.
“That year, I focused on the driving vehicle aspect, and I was not as well rounded as I am today,” said Choe. “When we lost, I was heartbroken. I wanted to win.”
The loss was fuel for Choe to challenge himself and become the team chief. Right after the 2017 PDC loss, Choe informed Mitchell he wanted to be the team chief for the 2019 PDC.
“I was fired up for the 2019 PDC,” said Choe. “I knew what our deficiencies were and wanted to make a plan of attack. Try to redeem our 2017 performance.”
Choe looked at all angles of the team’s weaknesses, including his own.
“I started to look at it from a different approach by focusing on smaller things,” said Choe. “I became a book nerd, not just the ramp guy. I gained more knowledge in my career field. It is hard being in just the reserve. I had to do things on my own. One has to take it on themselves.”
Choe’s efforts of self-improvement in his craft did not go unnoticed by others in the 76th APS.
“It has been an honor and privilege to see him grow in his military career,” said Chief Master Sgt. Kevin Massie, superintendent of organization management assigned to the 76th APS. “He was able to take on this challenge and bring home the dawg to where it should be, in Y-Town.”
Another senior leader in the 76th APS also describes the strong work ethic of Choe.
“Choe is always willing to learn about other parts of aerial port he is not an expert in,” said Mitchell. “He is willing to do whatever it takes for us to win.”
Team members of Choe also supported his appointment as team chief.
“Choe excels in a leadership position,” said Master Sgt. Zach Dunkin, PDC team member. “I knew he would be a great leader. He is well rounded, always there to help and never gets upset if someone asks him a question. Choe is always on top of everything.”
Other PDC team members recall Choe’s attention to detail as a team chief.
“During the ERO, the umpire asked for the team’s civilian and military driver’s licenses and Common Access Cards,” said Tech Sgt. Kyle Peirson. “Choe already had them collected and ready. He is calm, cool, collected and never gets worked up. He always keeps everyone in check.”
Tech. Sgt. Rebekah Sines, also a team member, concurs with Peirson.
“Choe did a fantastic job as a leader,” said Sines. “We were training for two weeks nonstop, and he had everything completely planned out.”
Among the PDC team members, there is a sense of commitment to their team chief.
“Everyone respects Choe,” said Dunkin. “We want to be here because it is with Choe.”
“Choe brings out the best in people,” said Tech. Sgt. Zach McLeish. “As much as we want to win these events, we also don’t want to let him down.”
As team chief, Choe expresses a great amount of respect for his teammates and their abilities.
“I am with a strong group of individuals who have all been deployed,” said Choe. “In every event, the umpires have spoken highly about our teamwork and how well we work together. It is easy to be the team chief with these guys.”
Although Choe is the leader of the team, he prefers to give the attention and recognition to others.
“I like to stay in the shadows and bring others up instead,” said Choe. “I enjoy seeing others succeed. Putting others before myself is a no brainer to me.”
Choe’s belief in selfless service was evident in the winning moments of the PDC.
As the team posed for celebration photos and lifted the coveted Port Dawg Challenge trophy high, one member wasn’t focused on the metal bulldog. Choe declined holding the dog for the pictures and instead smiled at his teammates holding it up with pride. He didn’t want it any other way.