Colonel Van “Diggity” Thai, a U.S. Air Force Mobility Instructor Pilot and Foreign Area Officer (FAO) specializing in Northeast Asia, joined the Daniel K. Inouye Asia-Pacific Center for Security Studies (DKI APCSS) in July 2018. Before arriving to DKI APCSS, Colonel Thai was a student at the French War College in Paris, France where he studied Global and European security issues with over 240 civilian and military personnel from 62 countries. Prior to attending the War College, he was the Deputy Commander, 18th Operations Group, 18th Wing, Kadena Air Base, Japan. The 18th Operations Group has over 900 personnel in 13 squadrons and approximately 92 F-15C, F-16, KC-135, E-3 AWACS, E-8 JSTARS, RC-135 and HH-60 aircraft valued at more than $4 billion. The group performs all 18th Wing flying as well as aeromedical and combat rescue missions, in support of U.S. and allies interests.
Colonel Thai was born in Saigon, Vietnam. He earned his commission in 1998 from the U.S. Air Force Academy. Colonel Thai has served in various KC-135 and C-12 squadron leadership roles to include commanding the 340 Expeditionary Air Refueling Squadron, the Air Force’s largest combat flying squadron which included an Afghanistan forward operating base. His unit was composed of over 300 Airmen (total of 2,000 rotational) and 55 aircraft (over $3 billion in value) executing nearly 14,000 missions in the CENTCOM AOR. In addition, he served as the United Nations Command Joint Duty Office at the Korean DMZ. Furthermore, Colonel Thai was instrumental to the standup of U.S. Africa Command as Aide-de-Camp to the first Deputy Commander for Civil-Military Activities. Additionally, as division chief for policy, engagements, and strategy at Fifth Air Force, Colonel Thai led 5 AF strategy development and deployment, coordinated U.S. Air Force bilateral actions with U.S. Forces Japan, Japan Air Self Defense Force, and the government of Japan Ministries and Agencies.
Colonel Thai is a senior pilot with more than 2,400 flight hours in the KC-135R/T, C-12J, C-12F, T-1A, and T-37B.