News: Sailors continue 61-year relationship with Aikwangon Orphanage
Story by Petty Officer 1st Class Joshua Bruns
KOJE ISLAND, Republic of Korea - More than 120 active duty and reserve sailors volunteered their time March 2 to help the Aikwangwon home and school for the physically and mentally disabled on Koje Island, Republic of Korea (ROK).
Sailors from Commander, U.S. Naval Forces Korea (CNFK), Commander, Fleet Activities Chinhae, Naval Mobile Construction Battalion 1, and the ROK Navy continued a 60-year plus tradition with Aikwangwon by installing a guardrail, restocking cultivated logs in a mushroom farm, and playing team-building games with residents and staff in the gymnasium at the special needs orphanage.
"We wish the residents and staff of Aikwangwon a prosperous 2014, the year of the Blue Horse," said Rear Adm. Lisa Franchetti, commander, U.S. Naval Forces Korea. "Since the last Year of the Blue Horse 60 years ago, sailors have been volunteering time and making friendships with the people of Aikwangwon. Today, I think our relationship with Aikwangwon continues to be strong because we have sailors that are committed to sharing their time here."
For some of the sailors, it was their first community relations event in Korea and a unique opportunity to bond with the residents and local staff.
"Working with the [ROK] sailors and getting to interact with the residents was awesome," said Equipment Operator Constructionman Victor Sanders, NMCB 1. "The log flipping was really unique too. It was something I'll never forget."
After helping staff in the mushroom farm and installing a new safety guardrail along a steep wheelchair ramp, some of the sailors walked with residents along the coast before enjoying some Korean bulgogi and kimchi at the cafeteria.
"You can see the work that the staff does here every day, but they go above and beyond that to welcome us when we visit," said Cmdr. Quinn D. Skinner, commander, Fleet Activities Chinhae. "I really appreciate Aikwangwon staff having us here and I appreciate all of the sailors volunteering to come out here and make this a great day."
The relationship between the U.S. Navy and Aikwangwon spans 61 years, when Kim Im-soon first founded Aikwangwon during the Korean War with seven orphans. U.S. Navy doctors and nurses assigned to the U.S. base at Chinhae would visit and perform check-ups when there were no bridges connecting Koje island to the Korean mainland making supplies and medical assistance difficult to receive. Since the 1950s, sailors from Commander, U.S. Naval Forces Korea and Commander, Fleet Activities Chinhae and visiting ships from the U.S. Seventh Fleet have performed many self-help projects and team-building activities as Aikwangwon transformed from a small home for about seven orphans into a complex housing more than 200 full-time residents.
"This is a very good learning opportunity for sailors to see some of the long history the U.S. Navy has of helping so many people in small corners of the world," said Lt. Cmdr. Sung Choi, CNFK chaplain. "Days like today are very special."
As sailors said their goodbyes to residents and staff, Aikwangwon's founder Kim Im-soon and superintendent Woojung Song waved goodbye at the buses.
"The U.S. Navy is like our family," said Ms. Song. "The children love when the sailors come. They will forever be friends with us."