North Korean refugees enjoy PACAF Band

North Korean refugees enjoy PACAF Band

by Staff Sgt. Alex Fox Echols III, 51st Fighter Wing Public Affairs
Stripes Korea

REPUBLIC OF KOREA -- The U.S. Air Force Band of the Pacific-Asia, Pacific Trends, played for a large group of North Korean refugees at a South Korean Ministry of Unification facility for North Korean defectors, Sept. 26.

The band played covers of thirteen classic songs off the world’s greatest hits list. Songs the refugees had undoubtedly never heard before, yet each song was accompanied by the carefree dancing of women and children who were living in the moment.

In an effort to connect more with their unique audience, Pacific Trends learned a traditional Korean folk song, Arirang, and invited the refugees to take over the vocals, center stage, with the audience dancing in traditional fashion.

"The band was unsure about how the audience would react to our music,” said Master Sgt. Julie Bradley, Pacific Trends NCO in-charge. “We don't speak the same language, and we were certain the songs would be unfamiliar, but we danced, clapped and sang together as if we rehearsed it. Building bonds through the emotional impact of music can really support the friendships we are trying to create. We had an amazing evening and were honored to be part of such a unique event."

This facility opened more than 15 years ago, and has helped more than 20,000 North Korean refugees integrate into the population through a three month long resettlement program.

In the center, the refugees learn vocational abilities as well as fundamentals skills we take for granted, like using an ATM, driving a car and paying an electric bill.

“Between work schedules and just life in general, I think it’s easy to lose sight of why we’re here sometimes,” said Airman 1st Class Gwendalyn Smith, a photojournalist stationed at Osan Air Base and audience member. “Seeing the band play for these refugees was by far the most humbling experience I’ve had since being in Korea. Knowing very little of the struggles they faced, but seeing the joy that radiated through them, really grounded me and made me realize how small our problems are.”

The women and children at the center risked everything, many leaving their families behind and traveling through several countries, to end up just 200 miles south in free territory to become South Koreans.

“On behalf of all trainees here, please send my regards to the Pacific Trends members; we truly appreciate them for providing an amazing concert,” said a Ministry of Unification official.

Editor’s Note: To protect the refugees and their families, who may still be in North Korea, interviews with the refugees were not possible and the photos do not directly identify any in attendance.

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