Editor’s note: The following was written by Lt. Col. Robert M. Taylor after his participation in the Volunteer of the Quarter Ceremony at the Army Community Service Center in June.
I volunteer as a coach in Child and Youth Services (CYS) to help the community doing something I love while getting to spend more time with my two daughters, Mika and Robbie, at the same time. However, why I started coaching at Yongsan requires a little more explanation. It started with a call for help, “Volunteer Coaches Needed, Fall Youth Sports Season Delayed.”
In early August of 2013, my family and I had just arrived “on-Pen” and I was in-processing in between commuting back and forth to a major exercise. I saw the community billboards on USAG-Yongsan looking for volunteers, day-after-day, so like most folks I thought about it. But I also thought about how busy I would be in my new assignment. No different than many other military personnel, I’ve consistently worked long-hours, in addition to deploying, going to night school and many other job related efforts that required much of my time for the past twenty years.
The phrase “work-life balance” was not always common in military vernacular, nor mine. I helped out with my children’s activities, sports teams and school events when I could but my commitment was inconsistent. However, the bus rides to and from the exercise allowed me more time to think about volunteering. Then I thought of my father and why I had come to Korea.
I volunteered to come to Korea because of my father’s service, almost forty years before. As a prior service officer with more than one tour in Vietnam, my father served in 2nd Battalion, 9th Infantry (Manchu) as a watch officer in the Joint Support Activity (JSA) during the Panmunjom incident in August of 1976 and subsequent Operation PAUL BUNYAN.
He talked often of being proud of his time serving along-side “the ROKs” and the friendliness of the Korean people. One of my earliest memories was hearing that he was not coming home on time, and having to stay with relatives for a few more months than our planned year. While I learned early the core values of the Army that would stay with me the rest of my life by growing up as a dependent and moving every two or three years, where I was really lucky, was having a father who also took some of his valuable off-duty time to coach many of the sports teams I played on while growing-up. However, it did not start out that way.
I was born while my father was deployed and I understand he was away from the family much of the time through my second grade year. But after watching from the sidelines during my first season of Dependent Youth Activities (DYA) soccer at Ft. Bragg, NC, he became committed to getting involved and doing better. He became head coach or assistant coach of most of the Post-sponsored sports activities I participated in through middle school.
Whether lessons on teamwork and sportsmanship, or practicing ‘the fundamentals’, he spent countless hours of his free time with me on various fields or courts. By the time I finished high school at Ft. Campbell, KY, and went off to college, I did not fully realize the impact extra hours he spent with me had on my life, and not just in sports but in everything I did. One of his sayings, “It’s not just ‘practice makes perfect’ but ‘perfect practice makes perfect’,” involved an attention to detail on learning and doing things the right way first, versus repetition of a potentially flawed technique, that would make the difference in a person being more successful. I remember what I learned from him served me well in the Air Force ROTC program as much as it did on the University soccer or rowing teams. There are even a couple fairly well-known, professional athletes that my dad had a positive impact on as my former, fellow Army dependent teammates. But looking back now, it was the time we shared together that was most important. As I reflected again on why I was in Korea, the example my father had set in being involved in my life became more significant.
Having the opportunity to serve where my father served only served to motivate me even more to get involved where I had also not yet ventured, coaching youth sports. I also suddenly realized how much of his free time he spent with my sister and I, and reflected on the opportunities in the last few years I had missed with my daughters. So, while signing my children up for CYS, I asked about opportunities to get involved and picked up a volunteer coaching form. A couple weeks later, after the exercise, when the billboard sign changed to “Fall Sports Season Delayed Two Weeks”, I knew I had to act.
Yes, there were challenges. Yes, I learned things about myself that I didn’t know or had forgotten since I was young enough to play sports. But the best part about getting involved was knowing I was able to positively influence the next couple of generations of our children.
According to some modern medical research, children who play sports are more confident, more social, and ultimately more successful in addition to being healthier during their lifetime. Many of the tougher life lessons are learned in miniature on the sports field: persistence, hard work, risk and teamwork, are just a few. And I believe General MacArthur’s quote applies to almost any endeavor as much as war, “Upon fields of friendly strife are sown the seeds that upon other fields, on other days, will bear the fruits of victory. “ Coaches are often the primary persons who harness and pass-on those valuable life lessons.
Work in USFK’s J33 (Current Operations) can be unpredictably busy, but there are more than a couple of us in the Division from the four Services and of various grades who volunteer in different ways throughout the community. My recommendation is to think about those who inspired and guided you.
Then let that motivate you to pick something you are good at and find out where you can best leverage it to help others. Even if you do not have the time to devote to a formal volunteer role, think about devoting an hour or two, every now and then, to help out in community activities when you can. Or at the very least, don’t pass up the opportunity to do the little things, when you see something that needs to be done; for example, on-the-spot efforts like picking-up spare chairs at the end of an event in the High School Gym or collecting that empty bottle someone left on the bleachers at the softball field add-up if everyone does the same.
You’ll be surprised at how getting involved helps you, not just those you are helping. Of course, the most important step, is taking the first one … to volunteer.