Korea training offers chance for siblings to bond
YONGSAN GARRISON, South Korea -- Her bright red lipstick screamed "look at me," contrasting with the thick, light brown bangs she modestly hid behind. She wore a light purple, crocheted hat and a small, cloth owl-shaped pin. Her energy buzzed in a playful, Mary Poppins way. She quietly appeared on the subway platform near Gwanghwamun Square, Seoul, South Korea, seemingly out of nowhere, and smiled widely as she touched her brother's shoulder.
Staff Sgt. Matthew Keeler, a public affairs specialist assigned to the 109th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment, Pennsylvania Army National Guard, was elated to see his younger sister, Samantha (Sam) Anna Keeler.
"As a big brother, I trust Sam to take good care of herself, but there is nothing like seeing her and knowing she's alright," said Matthew.
The siblings, who have always been very close, spent months planning this overseas encounter, hoping for a chance to meet in Seoul. After learning that her brother would have a day off, Sam bought her ticket for the three-hour train ride from Busan to Seoul.
Matthew's unit was temporarily assigned for duties in Seoul at Yongsan Garrison, for its two-week annual training, augmenting the public affairs office of the Eighth Army, during exercise Key Resolve 2015.
Key Resolve allows the U.S. military force to demonstrate its commitment to South Korea through coordinated training efforts. The exercise ensures that the joint forces will have the operational experience to deal with any conflict or crisis that might arise on the Korean Peninsula. The 109th MPAD had a break during the training exercise, which allowed the Keelers to get together.
Sam teaches English at Hwajeong Elementary School in Busan, port city on Korea's southern coast. She has visited the United States just twice since moving to South Korea two years ago.
Matthew said the chance to meet his sister was "incredible," noting the rarity of the opportunity for service members to meet Family while on missions outside of the United States.
"It's a lot of fun going to different places with the military," he said. "So going somewhere like this, to Korea, and having the rare opportunity to see my sister has really been amazing."
The brother and sister spent 10 hours together, beginning with a walking tour in Gwanghwamun Square, an open plaza that boasts a large statue of King Sejong. The duo later visited traditional market areas, including Insadong and Namdaemun, before ending their time together in Itaewon, an international district near the center of Seoul.
This is the first time Matthew traveled to Korea and, throughout the day, he was continuously impressed by its beauty and culture.
"My sister said it was a luscious and exciting place to visit," said Matthew. "I think it's really pretty and it's been an eye-opening experience."
The Keeler siblings chatted about Family, books and video games and caught up with news from each other's lives as they made their way through the crowded market streets adorned with people peddling everything from earthenware pots and handmade paper to live octopi.
Matthew relished the chance to see some of the culture and try traditional foods suggested by his sister.
"Sam and I have similar food tastes," he said. "She was able to pick out things I'd really enjoy."
Sam said she was happy to treat her brother to various foods served from street vendors in Korea.
Letting his sister advise him through a foreign country was a unique experience for Matthew.
"Being the older brother, it's usually my job to teach her the ropes," he said. "So having her hold me by the hand and lead the way was great and I'm really proud to experience it with her."
The excursion alleviated some of the reservations Matthew had about his sister living abroad and allowed him to have a glimpse into the life that is his sister's reality. Sam, in turn, welcomed her brother's presence and his unspoken approval of the direction her life has taken.
"Being out there in town with her and seeing how she intermingles and fits in so well, I see that she's having a great chance to live her life," said Matthew.
As a reminder of the unique time they were able to spend together, Sam bought Matthew a tan Korean phone case for his cell phone, which he proudly showed off to his unit members.
After taking multiple selfies around Seoul and creating irreplaceable memories with one another, the two parted ways.
"It was surreal to have a Family member with me here in Korea," said Sam. "Being able to spend time with my brother in a country I've come to love was such a rewarding experience and it was also nice to see other Americans enjoying it as well."