Republic of Korea Air Force Capt. Sungcheol Lee, 38th Fighter Group chaplain, instructs U.S. and ROKAF Airmen in meditation at Kunsan Air Base, Republic of Korea, April 11, 2019. Chaplains sponsored a joint two-day course including guided meditation, a traditional meal, learning the basic history of Buddhism, and temple visits. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Joshua Edwards)
Republic of Korea Air Force Capt. Sungcheol Lee, 38th Fighter Group chaplain, instructs U.S. and ROKAF Airmen in meditation at Kunsan Air Base, Republic of Korea, April 11, 2019. Chaplains sponsored a joint two-day course including guided meditation, a traditional meal, learning the basic history of Buddhism, and temple visits. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Joshua Edwards)

USAF, ROKAF chaplains host Buddhist immersion

by Staff Sgt. Joshua Edwards
Kunsan Air Base

KUNSAN AIR BASE, Republic of Korea -- The U.S. Air Force 8th Fighter Wing chaplains paired with the Republic of Korea Air Force 38th Fighter Group chaplain to host an educational Buddhist immersion course for Airmen April 11 and 13.

“We had people express interest in learning more about Buddhism, so we wanted to help facilitate that,” said Capt. Amy Bartee, 8th FW chaplain. “We have a great relationship with the ROKAF, so this immersion was a good experience for both of us.”

To kick off the course, Capt. Sungcheol Lee, 38th FG chaplain and Buddhist monk, taught U.S. Airmen about traditional Buddhist meal customs typically used by monks.

“We hope to respect our food, our culture and our nature,” said Lee. “Even when we feast ourselves with this meal, we also know that there are others around the world that starve.”

The meal consisted of rice, soup and sides each placed in their own bowls, so Airmen could experience the flavors of the separate dishes. He also taught about the customs of hiding one’s face with their bowl so no one can watch them chew, and remaining silent during the meal.

“Traditionally, you should be eating everything, but since you are practicing today, it is okay not to finish,” said Lee. “It is a key part of the Buddhist creed to not throw any food out.”

To conclude the first day of immersion activities, Airmen heard a brief history lesson and then participated in a guided meditation session.

On day two of the course, ROKAF Airmen from the 38th FG joined their U.S. counterparts on a trip to Dongguksa Temple and Eunjeok Temple, located nearby Kunsan in the neighboring town of Gunsan City.

There, Airmen learned about the distinct architectural styles present in Japanese and Korean-style Buddhist temples. Lee described that the Japanese-style Dongguksa Temple reflects a more natural representation of the wood structures, while the Korean-style Eunjeok Temple has a more highly-decorated and colorful presentation.

“It was interesting to see the contrasts between the two styles,” said Master Sgt. Walter Coles, 8th Force Support Squadron manpower superintendent. “This was a great chance for me to get out and about. Now that I know where they are, I can visit them any time.

“Partnering with ROKAF [during this immersion] was great, because we rarely get the chance to sit down and talk about our individual experiences. Being with and learning from them was the best part.”

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