Army Sustainment Command Soldier recounts his Olympic, Paralympic experience
I was selected in November 2017 for what I thought would be a stint as a translator at the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics and Paralympics. (To my surprise, the job turned out to be a volunteer supervisor.) After not hearing anything for some time, we were notified only five days out when the ROK (Republic of Korea) Army notified me that I would be leaving on Jan. 8, the next Monday.
I was called in for a briefing on Friday at the multi-purpose theater on Yongsan Garrison in Seoul, and a captain from the 8th Army ROKA (ROK Army) Support Group gave us a short explanation about where we should go on Monday and how to get there. They were not even tracking with whom we were going to work. We were simply told that people who would be working together would form a Kakao group chat (Kakao is a popular chatting app that everyone in Korea uses) and we should check it out as soon as we leave the garrison and get access to our phones. (Republic of Korea Army regulation prohibits us from using phones on post).
The captain divided us into several groups that were expected to arrive at the same train station together. However, since there were no available trains when we tried to get tickets, almost all of us had to take an intercity bus instead.
After all the troubles, we arrived at the Uniform Distribution and Accreditation Centre, where we received all of our gear and completed in-processing. I received a pair of cold weather boots, a jacket, a parka and a pair of gloves. There I met the manager of my section and some of my colleagues. That evening, we finally moved into our accommodations. The room was a small studio of about 320 square feet with a bed and a kitchenette.
First weeks at Yongpyong Alpine Centre
I worked at the Yongpyong Alpine Centre, where the men and women's slalom and giant slalom events took place. My first impression of the venue was that it looked more like a construction site than a sports venue as they were still building the spectators' stands. The only things that showed it was a place for Alpine skiing events were the statue of Olympic rings and the slope itself.
My team consisted of one manager, one deputy manager and seven supervisors like myself. My group's task was to assist spectators during the games. As they introduced us to the jobs we would be performing, it became evident that there would be little occasion to work as 'translators' as we had initially been anticipating.
For the first couple of weeks we focused on setting up our office. We had to turn an empty shipping container into a fully functioning workspace. We had incoming supplies from pens and paper to heaters and fences to deal with. The next couple of weeks passed making plans for how we should manage each of the seven sectors we had been assigned and preparing to train civilian volunteers.
The Pyeongchang Olympic Organizing Committee (POCOG) started organizing the volunteer corps of more than 10,000 individuals a couple of years before the games started.
The greatest obstacle for us was the weather, especially the wind and low temperatures. The temperature often hit minus four degrees Fahrenheit during whole month of January and the wind was so strong that fences were knocked over. Luckily we were trained to deal with hypothermia in case a spectator or crew member suffered a cold injury.
Although many people got sick because of Norovirus, my team and myself were not affected. However, the security personnel of the Alpine Centre were using the same accommodations as the people affected by Norovirus. They were quarantined for couple of weeks, so soldiers from nearby ROK Army units took their places during that period.
Days of the games
The members of the volunteer corps arrived Jan. 9, and my fellow KATUSAs and I provided them training over the next two days. We had more than 160 volunteers and 24 of them worked with me as my team members. The volunteers were enthusiastic despite the difficult weather conditions and a sometimes unreliable shuttle bus system.
The weather finally hit us hard. Strong winds forced games to be postponed a couple of times. The first time, the event was postponed before spectators entered the venue. The second time, however, the decision to postpone the event was made after more than 1,000 spectators were already on hand.
It was a difficult situation because our venue, the Yongpyong Alpine Centre, was separated into two different parts, 1.5 miles apart. The screening area and ticket scanners were on the downside of the mountain and the actual event took place up the hill. So we had to gather those who had already entered the venue and move them back down the hill. We exhausted ourselves getting people out of the venue safely.
Everything was fine for the remainder of the games. The weather was not too cold nor windy. Even through my job was at the screening area, and I could not see any of the events, my crews were so energetic that I still managed to enjoy myself.
When the Alpine Centre closed, I was reassigned to Gangneung Curling Centre for the Paralympics. This time, I could see all of the events as they took place. Above all, the venue itself was in the middle of Gangnueng Olympic Park where all the tourist attractions for the Olympics were, including the official merchandise store and the sponsors' marketing booths.
Unlike at the Alpine Centre where we had only five events overall, there were a variety of events daily from the beginning to the end of the Paralympics. That provided me the opportunity to not only assist at the back of the house as I did during Olympics, but also at the front of the house where the actual games were taking place and where the spectators were located. Although working for the spectators in person ---- from guiding them to their seats and listening to their occasional complaints ---- it was not an easy job. I could definitely feel the intensity and catch a glimpse of the games from time to time.
Besides meeting people from around the world, we saw many extraordinary costumes. There was a woman who made an outfit featuring the Olympic rings and there were Norwegians wearing helmets with horns on it. (I got a picture with one of the Norwegians.)
During the Paralympics, families of the Canadian athletes came to see the curling matches almost every day. They remained in the venue even after all the other spectators departed to visit with their athletes. It was awkward for us because we had to clear the venue for the next matches or to close for the day, but when Canada finally won the bronze medal (by defeating Korea) I was close enough with them to give words of congratulations.
It was an absolutely rare opportunity to be a part of such a huge event as the Olympics. It was particularly meaningful to be able to do so as part of my mandatory service. Although it was not always easy and I had to face tough weather, I learned a lot of different things from the experience.
Above all, working in a supervisory position helped me get accustomed to managing people. A leader must ensure his or her team is working efficiently together toward the same goals, while maintaining morale. Also, the experience at Yongpyong taught me the importance of coordination between different teams.
Last, but not least, it was meaningful to meet so many different people from so many different places. It provided me the opportunity to embrace the ways that others think. I will never forget the experience I had during the Olympics and am grateful that I was a part of such great event.
Shin is a KATUSA (Korean Augmentation to the United States Army) Soldier who serves as a supply clerk at the Logistics Readiness Center--Yongsan Central Issue Facility, Yongsan Garrison, Seoul, Republic of Korea. The LRC--Yongsan falls under the 403rd Army Field Support Brigade headquartered at Camp Henry in Daegu which, in turn, reports to the U.S. Army Sustainment Command located at Rock Island Arsenal, Illinois.
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