At that time, one of my senior editors at Yonhap News Agency invited me to dinner and I suggested we go to a restaurant I enjoy on Yongsan Garrison - home of United States Forces Korea. After I signed him in, he turned to me with a look of delight and told me he served there 30 years earlier as a KATUSA (Korean Augmentation to the U.S. Army). He was excited to be back and as we walked to the restaurant, we passed the dental clinic where he served.
Over the next week, he spoke with some of his KATUSA alumni, and they asked whether it would be possible to visit the Post, tour their old place of work and meet the current staff and KATUSAs. It seemed to be exactly what the Good Neighbor program exists to do, so I contacted the personnel who run the program to see what could be done.
Phone calls were made, e-mails sent and the waiting began. And stretched, with the alumni becoming impatient and me trying to explain that big bureaucracies move slowly, and it doesn't come much bigger than the Army. I went off traveling, but checked in occasionally to see if there'd be any action and continued to ask for updates from my USFK contacts.
Who, it was eventually discovered, had been given an outdated point of contact for the Dental Clinic. As soon as that was discovered and an e-mail sent to the correct person, things started happening very quickly. My editor friend had a meeting with the officers who run the clinic, and a ceremony and dinner were planned for yesterday. I was informed and asked if I could attend.
The former KATUSAs, all of whom are now in positions of power in South Korea and who include a professor, a banker and prosperous businessman, were excited to be back on base and proud to be honored by the Dental Command. One was accompanied by his son, a 19-year-old university student who has yet to begin his mandatory military service, but who now knows where he wants to do it.
The officers and NCOs of the command were proud to host what they think is the first such visit by former KATUSAs, as they have no official organization, and answer questions on the changes over the past 30 years.
As for the young KATUSAs, they got a glimpse of their potential futures and realized the importance of maintaining the friendships they make at the outset of their adult lives. I sat at dinner with the son and two KATUSAs who told me they had the worst English of the entire group, but we were soon conversing easily, with much laughter.
I made new friends, including an officer who was promoted that day and has family living in Beijing - my next home - and the alumni of my editor friend. I was happy to see the plan come to fruition and to learn it will continue to flourish after I depart, as the older Koreans intend to form an organization to mentor and assist their descendants, and to stay in touch with their U.S. counterparts.
Mission accomplished . . .
|Former KATUSAs from the 10th Med visit the 618th Dental Company.|
Photo by Chuck Yang
|Receiving a coin from 618th Dental Co. commander, COL David Mott.|
Photo by Chuck Yang