KOJE ISLAND, South Korea - More than 100 active-duty and reserve sailors took some of their free time during a pause in exercise Ulchi Freedom Guardian 2012 to volunteer at the Aikwangwon Home and School for the Physically and Mentally Disabled on Koje island, Republic of Korea, Aug. 25.
Seabees from Naval Mobile Construction Battalion 74, detachment Chinhae, brought a truck full of tools to work on various projects. They built and installed new bathroom doors and partitions as well as spackled cracked walls around the facility.
The rest of the sailors assisted with landscaping and general maintenance for a few hours before they all got back together to see musical performances from the residents and then joined in with singing, dancing and playing group games.
“My favorite part was interacting with them during the singing and dancing and seeing their pre-staged performances. You could tell it was something that they rehearsed and that they really looked forward to having an audience to come and be able to see their talent,” said Chief Yeoman Brad Johnson. “It was exciting to feed off their energy and to join in.”
The performance highlight was a resident wearing a suit and sunglasses dancing to the viral South Korean song “Gangnam Style.” The room erupted as most watching clapped along and cheered for him and his back up dancers.
The Chief Petty Officers Association cooked an American-style barbecue of hamburgers and hotdogs on three grills they donated to the foundation. They served lunch to 325 residents, staff and teachers as well as to all the sailors who attended.
Most of the residents said it was the first time they had ever eaten anything like that. A lot of them said they really enjoyed the food and went back for seconds with smiles on their faces.
Kim Im-soon founded Aikwangwon, which means “the garden of love and light”, during the Korean War with seven orphans. It has transformed during the past six decades into a complex that houses around 220 residents and provides schooling to more than 200 students from the area.
“In that time there was no electricity, no vehicles and even no hospitals,” Kim said as she described the early years.
“In that hard time the U.S. Navy doctors and clinics came here to help us via a Navy warship. A lot of civilians also came here to get taking care of. Civilians called Aikwangwon the U.S. Navy house,” said Kim.
Kim gave a few accounts of how the Navy has supported her foundation through the years.
“Aikwangwon was shown a lot of love by the U.S. Navy,” she said as she thanked the sailors for their work and upkeep to the facility.
“Ms. Kim is a Korean national treasure, a kind of Mother Teresa for Korea. Working closely with her this past year has been a true blessing and a joy,” said Rear Adm. Bill McQuilkin, commander of Naval Forces Korea.
“While our sailors give so much while they are at Aikwangwon, they come away with having received so much more,” said McQuilkin.
McQuilkin highlighted the large turnout and the support of the reservists. He brought Command Master Chief Mamudu Cole on stage with him to present boxes of diapers and coats that were collected by sailors and family members in Seoul.
Everyone gathered together for a group photo outside the main building to finish the day’s events. A large group of kids came down to continue waving goodbye as the buses full of sailors left to take them back to Fleet Activities Chinhae.
CNFK is the regional commander for the U.S. Navy in the Republic of Korea and provides expertise on naval matters to area military commanders, including the commander for the United Nations Command, the Republic of Korea-U.S. Combined Forces Command, and commander, U.S. Forces Korea. CNFK also serves as liaison to the ROK navy and the Combined Forces commander staff in armistice and in wartime to commander, U.S. 7th Fleet, based in Yokosuka, Japan.
For more news from Commander, U.S. Naval Forces Korea, visit www.navy.mil/local/cnfk/.