|Choi Young-jae / Korea Times file|
By Park Si-soo, Eom Da-sol
Choi Young-jae seemed bewildered by his abrupt rise to rock-star status and the international media frenzy over him.
The commando-turned-businessman who followed behind President Moon Jae-in like a shadow as a bodyguard during his presidential campaign has become a global sensation, after snapshots of him standing next to Moon and gazing out have gone viral. His “stunning handsomeness,” with his chiseled jaw-line, steely eyes and coiffed hair, has sent numerous women swooning. A slew of news outlets have lauded the dashing bodyguard, often comparing him with Kevin Costner in the 1992 Hollywood hit film “The Bodyguard.”
“I feel good. But also I’m concerned about the spotlight and the attention focused on me,” Choi told The Korea Times. “Attention should be paid to the President, not me. I don’t want to steal the limelight.”
Choi, 36, is not a professional bodyguard. He studied security service at Yong In University and served in South Korea’s Special Warfare Command as an officer for 10 years. During that time, the master of multiple martial arts was dispatched to Lebanon and the United Arab Emirates as a member of United Nations peacekeeping forces where he taught and implemented counter-terrorism campaigns, VIP protection and other confidential missions.
With expertise and skills, he “voluntarily” formed a 10-member security team, all trained at the Special Warfare Command, for Moon in February shortly after he secured intelligence of a terrorist plot against the then presidential hopeful, and protected him until the role was handed to the presidential security team last week.
The father of two daughters suspended his business for the task, during which his wife, a private English tutor, was the sole breadwinner.
His team offered the security service to Moon for nothing.
“As a long-time supporter of Moon, I just wanted to help him,” he said. “I just wanted to play a small role in helping Moon accomplish his long-cherished dream of rebuilding the country.”
Choi is now “off duty” and enjoying a short break. “I couldn’t play with my children for a long time. I would like to spend time with my family before returning to my work,” Choi said. He didn’t mention his job.
Wrapping up the interview, Choi left a heartfelt message to President Moon: “Please stay safe and healthy! Only when you are healthy, can you make our country worthy of being proud of, with its people being cared for the most. Please stay healthy!”
|Choi Young-jae, center, stands behind President Moon Jae-in, left.|
The following is a Q&A with Choi.
Q. Would you please introduce yourself?
A. I am a graduate of the security service major at Yong In University and served Korea's Special Warfare Command as an officer for 10 years. I was awarded the honorary 11th-degree black belt in martial arts and was a military instructor of counter-terror attacks at the 707th unit in Korea’s Special Warfare Command. I was dispatched to Lebanon and the United Arab Emirates and worked as a VIP guard and as an instructor of the high-altitude infiltration team there.
Q. We heard that you voluntarily applied to be Moon Jae-in’s guard.
A. As one of the longtime supporters of President Moon, I volunteered to help accomplish his great cause to “rebuild the country.” We paid for the entire expense of the bodyguards ourselves. The team consists of 10 people who are my juniors in Korea's Special Warfare Command. We were on duty from February after a threat to President Moon, when he was not even the party’s candidate.
Our team is not from a private security company. We are just supporters who like him. In the hope that Moon -- supported by many Koreans -- will be able to transform this country to be worthy of being proud of, we used every ounce of our strength to protect him. It was a great honor for me to be at his side to guard him. We have completed all our roles.
Q. What do you think of the huge attention on you?
A. It does not feel real yet. I think the attention is coming from the public’s interest in President Moon’s every move, so I feel good. I am very thankful for the spotlight and attention focused on me. But once again, I am also concerned not to bring trouble for the President. As he was a presidential candidate of whom our fellow teammates are proud, I want us to be a team that President Moon is proud of.
Q. Is that true that your wife is an English instructor?
A. Yes, it is. TOEIC instructor would be more accurate.
Q. Would you like to say a word to President Moon?
A. You belong to Korean citizens now. Please stay safe and healthy! Only when you are healthy can you make a county worthy of being proud of, where its citizens are cared for as the first priority. Please stay healthy!
Q. Can you tell us about your plans?
A. I have been neglectful of my family for the past few months. I will enjoy a lot of time with my two daughters in appreciation of my family’s support without complaining. I used to help with my wife’s work before, so I also will help her after the break. I will do things that make me feel alive.