Iron Horse Soldier visits family, celebrates Chuseok in homeland

by U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Kelly Carlton, 35th Air Defense Artillery Brigade Public Affairs
Osan Air Base

OSAN AIR BASE, South Korea – Returning home can often be laden with excitement and a little bit of fear, especially if it has been many years and your home is half a world away.

Pfc. Sang Yong Park, a supply specialist with Headquarters and Headquarters Battery, 6th Battalion, 52nd Air Defense Artillery Regiment, 35th ADA Brigade, said it has been nearly 13 years since he left Korea.

After enlisting in the U.S. Army and being stationed in South Korea, Park made the three hour trip to spend Chuseok with his father’s older sister and brother. Chuseok is one of the most important holidays in the Korean culture, and centers around honoring one’s ancestors with the first produce from the seasonal rice harvests. It is similar to the American holiday Thanksgiving.

“This is my first time visiting my grandparents in almost 13 years,” Park said. “Bowing to the table of offered food makes my visit known to my grandparents. It is how I am letting them know that I’m in Korea, and I am here to dine with them for Chuseok.”

Park’s aunt, Jung Hee Park, hosted the ceremony and it was officiated by his dad’s eldest brother, Jin Hong Park. It is the first time they have seen the younger Park in more than 12 years.

“Today, every Korean home has this a ceremony like this,” Jin Park said. “In the Park lineage book, my nephew is next in line to get the baton. It is very significant he is here because he is a male and the next to carry on this tradition.”

The Korean and U.S. Military alliance depend on interoperability and Park feels being in Korea allows him to contribute to that relationship.

“I think I have an advantage being both American and Korean as far as the Army goes,” he said. “When training is taking place or we’re working with our Republic of Korea counterparts, it’s a big plus because I can translate and nothing gets lost in translation.”

Building partnering opportunities while in Korea is essential to mission success. Command Sgt. Maj. Thurman Booth, senior enlisted advisor, 6-52 ADA, understands how the Korean-American Soldiers in his formation help facilitate this important exchange.

“Having Korean American Soldiers in our ranks gives me comfort knowing my thoughts and ideas will be well communicated. These Soldiers understand our Army as well as the Korean culture, which is very different from ours. Our mission is enhanced by the brave men and women who return to their homeland and fight for both of us,” Booth said.

Park came to America with his parents when he was very young and decided to join the U.S. Army. Korean men are required to serve about two years of military service, so for Park, the decision was easy.

“My family is proud that I am a U.S. Soldier,” he said. “Every Korean male has to join the service, so it’s looked upon as honorable. I just decided to join the U.S. Army.”

Park’s grandfather, who he honored during the ceremony, also served in the Korea Army.

“My grandfather was in the Army during Vietnam. A land mine severely injured his legs and no longer had use of them,” Park said. “I remember him scooting up the walk to see me. He was still very strong and would lift me over his head.”

“Today, I wanted to let him know that I am also a Soldier.”

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