ROKAF shares culture, heritage with alliance members

by Staff Sgt. Benjamin Stratton
35 Fighter Wing Public Affairs

Republic of Korea military leaders invited 60 U.S. service members in country for Key Resolve 2017 on a tour of Seoul March 18 where they experienced the Korean culture first-hand.

With stops at the War Memorial of Korea, a traditional Korean restaurant and the Namsan Seoul Tower, the Americans gained new friends broadening their understanding of the culture and people they’re here to protect.

“The more we can experience the culture and better understand each other, the more effective we’ll be at working together as a fully unified alliance,” said Col. Todd Vician, the Seventh Air Force chief of staff at Osan Air Base, ROK. “When the [ROKAF] general came to me with this meaningful offer I was ecstatic. Tours like these afford our [U.S.] service members a way to walk away from this experience with a richer understanding of why we’re here and be able to take that knowledge and share it back at their home duty station.”

This group of explorers volunteered in the first few days on peninsula for the chance to see more of their host nation than what can be seen from Osan AB. Crowding on two buses early Saturday morning, they didn’t realize then just how much they’d learn.

It took approximately one hour, weaving in and out of traffic down city streets, up country roads and across miles of highway before the group arrived at the War Memorial of Korea. Here, two tour guides greeted them each with a breadth of knowledge and first-hand experience from the Korean War.

“History is very important in every culture and if we forget where we came from then there’s no meaning in life and we learn very little,” said Lee Song Ha, a War Memorial of Korea tour guide who was six-years-old at the beginning of the war. “We won [the war] thanks to the brave service members from the United States and the United Nations.”

The Korean War was the first war in which the United Nations played a role. When asked to send military aid to the Republic of Korea, 16 United Nation countries sent troops and 41 sent equipment or aid. The U.S. sent nearly 90 percent of all military forces and spent approximately $67 billion. The truce talks lasted two years and 17 days and it was the first war with battles between jet aircraft. There has never been a peace treaty, so technically, the Korean War has never ended.

Lee said it’s tours like these that “bring me much joy.”

“We shared too much of our time and lives with you not only during the war but in our lives after it and it’s always a pleasure to share our combined history together with you,” he continued.

Similarly, Senior Airman Timothy Leonard, a security forces journeyman and full-time Air National Guard member with the 187th Fighter Wing at Dannelly Field, Alabama, said although this was his first time to Korea, it definitely won’t be his last.

“I loved the opportunity to get out and really experience their culture first-hand,” Leonard said. “I volunteered for the trip because it shows we’re willing to accept their culture and that we have an open mind to their ways instead of always being so dominant.”

Although the U.S. and ROK partner on many other tours of similar caliber, this was a first for personnel forward deployed in support of Key Resolve. Organized and led by volunteers from the Republic of Korea Air Force, the tour showcased both countries’ commitment to understanding and working side-by-side for the protection and betterment of the entire peninsula.

“Koreans have what we call a ‘warm heart,’” explained ROKAF Maj. Young Deok Jung, a U.S. and ROK combined coordinator with the ROKAF Operations Command at Osan AB. “We like to be as welcoming and open with our friends as we can. Sharing our culture and food with these U.S. service members really gave us that opportunity to open our hearts and share our compassion.”

Traveling more than 7,000 miles to participate in Key Resolve, 1st Lt. David Moore, who is home stationed at Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Virginia, expressed his immense gratitude for the ROKAF members who worked so hard to put the tour together.

“I came a long way and honestly didn’t know what to expect when I found out I was going to Korea--I’ve never been here before,” Moore said. “Everything seemed so foreign, but our ROKAF hosts really made us feel at home. I think my favorite part of the tour was the ride from Osan to Seoul. I found it really interesting to see how the Koreans live their lives.”

The lieutenant said the tour makes working alongside ROK partners more relatable during Key Resolve.

“I work side-by-side with two Korean lieutenants,” he explained. “The more we talked the more we realize just how similar we are. We’re the same age, have similar interests and enjoy a lot of the same foods. The tour gave me a better understanding of some of the things we talk about during ice breakers. It has truly been an enriching experience; I’d do it again in a heartbeat.”

Heritage means so much to the Koreans and for Jung, it means the world to him that he could share it with Korea’s closest Allies.

“When I saw their smiles at the end of the trip and heard how happy they were--my face also smiles,” he said. “Thank you for coming from so far--to serve my people.”

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