From desperation to inspiration
KUNSAN AIR BASE, Republic of Korea -- Airmen stationed at Kunsan Air Base, Republic of Korea, received a reminder of the importance of their service under United States Forces Korea Apr. 25, 2014.
Born and raised in a North Korean political prison camp, Shin Dong-hyuk shared his experiences of living inside the camp and life since his escape.
"I was born in poor surroundings, but I ended up living in a place where people can enjoy [living]," said Shin through a translator. "I used to blame why I was born, but now I have a lot of moments to appreciate that I was born. I can live feeling like a human being because I was born."
Shin's story reminded the audience of why United States Forces Korea exists.
"Listening to Shin Dong-hyuk's story humbled me," said Staff Sgt. Matthew Gips, 8th Fighter Wing knowledge operations manager. "Knowing the history of communism's tyranny from a textbook is far different than hearing it exists today, only a few hundred miles from your doorstep, by an individual who has lived and suffered by its control."
Shin also emphasized the importance of freedom.
"People take everything for granted. They seem to think what they have is natural and not special," said Shin through a translator. "To me, freedom is the word people use commonly and speak simply. They seem to never cherish their freedom and never feel how important it is. They just take it granted. From my perspective, freedom is DNA inside of our bodies."
Traveling across South Korea, Shin has been sharing his story letting servicemembers hear the importance of their time in Korea.
"Although I cannot solely bring down North Korea, my efforts here do contribute to the safety and freedom of South Korea, a thriving republic nation that has bounced back since the opposition," said Gips. "I feel that I can further educate myself on our adversary to be a better asset to the mission here on the peninsula."
Airmen like Gips exemplify the core mission of why there is a U.S. presence in South Korea.
"Kunsan is a hard tour, but I wouldn't trade my experience for the world," said Gips. "My grandfather fought in the Korean War over 60 years ago, and now I am safeguarding his sacrifice, and countless others, through deterrence. Our presence here is necessary. I believe in freedom and am willing to fight for it."