News: Leader serves two countries
Story by Cpl. Han-byeol Kim
CAMP CASEY, South Korea – In South Korea, there are two armies and the differences are easy to see from the outside, but there are some people who understand both armies from the inside.
U.S. soldiers work with their ROK Allies, Korean Augmentation to the United States Army soldiers, everyday to increase the ROK-U.S. combined defense capability for the Korean peninsula.
Maj. Lee Geun-hyung, from Killeen, Texas, and originally from Angang, South Korea is the 210th Fires Brigade chaplain and is one of a handful of soldiers, who served as a member of both the ROK and U.S. Army.
One big difference between the two armies is that the U.S. has a volunteer military system, but the ROK has a conscription system. Korean male citizens are required to serve in the military according to constitution and military service law. The period of service changes from time to time, and currently they are 21 months for the army, 23 months for navy, and 24 months for air force.
By the time Lee was supposed to join the military in 1990, third-generation only sons didn’t have to join the Army, or they could volunteer to serve six months instead of the full service period.
Lee was a third-generation only son, but he decided to join the military anyways and worked in the ROK air force as a military policeman in 10th Fighter Wing.
“I was planning to study abroad, and at that time, the procedure to leave the country wasn’t that easy, as it is today,” said Lee. “So, I joined the military to make that easier.”
After serving the ROKAF, he went to America. He studied theology at Luther Rice Bible College, and also graduated Erskine Theological Seminary. He entered the ministry in Philadelphia. His work in the church led him to the U.S. Army.
“I hadn’t asked anyone about being a chaplain or met a chaplain, until after going to the U.S.,” Lee said. “Because I was in the U.S., I thought I should serve not only Koreans, but also different varieties of people. When I was looking for the way to serve a large variety of people, God showed me the way into the U.S. Army.”
He applied at Philadelphia Induction Center to join the Army. Since he was a permanent resident, he was commissioned as a lieutenant in 2003, and then went through the chaplain officer basic course.
Lee noticed several differences between the chaplain systems in both militaries.
“The number of chaplains in the ROKAF is much smaller than U.S. Army,” he said. “Another is U.S. chaplains go with their units whether they go to the field, operations or even war, while ROK chaplains don’t.”
From a soldiers’ point of view, he thinks moving around is a big difference.
“There are few ROK units going abroad or moving around. Most ROKA soldiers stay in one unit and one location,” he said. “But U.S. soldiers keep moving around. I’ve moved seven times in the past 10 years.”
Lee’s Korean-American heritage allows him to help as many people as possible, while he is stationed here in Korea for the second time.
“Korea is my home and mother country. I’m happy to serve with the KATUSAs and to serve with ROK-U.S. Alliance, while I am stationed in Korea,” he said. “I give thanks to God for giving me a chance to serve in support of my motherland.”
He also thinks it is honorable to serve the U.S. Army.
“The U.S. Army helps people realize their dreams, especially young soldiers with the opportunity of college with the Army’s support,” Lee said. “Some soldiers serve the Army over 20 years; but for many soldiers, the Army can be the chance to prepare for their future.”
While he serves in the U.S. Army, he feels more and more that the Army is taking care of him.
“The reason why I am here today is because the U.S. Army has taken good care of me,” Lee said. “U.S. is the only country that allows people from other countries to become U.S. Army officers and become citizens.”
Lee stated that his experience has been positive and motivates him to continue to serve others.