35 years with Red Cross: 'We are here always, ready to help'
August 12, 2008
<strong>YONGSAN GARRISON, Republic of Korea</strong> - Since 1973, Choe Wan-kyong has served the American Red Cross, and July 23 he marked his 35th year with the organization. Despite almost half of his life spent in the same place, he moved 24 times before finally settling.
During the Korean War, his house in the fields of Osan became an airfield, and thus started his life of relocation. Born in 1935 in Dongdaemun, he was an only son. His father died in 1949, life was just not that easy. Although he graduated college and majored in English, finding a job was never simple.
He joined the military and served three years. When he was discharged in 1961, he heard news that the U.S. Army was looking for an interpreter. He took the chance, starting out as an interpreter, and later was promoted to administrative specialist. He was also a training officer at the 2nd Aviation Battalion for six years.
In 1970, however, the United States announced the withdrawal of the U.S. Army from Korea. Choe decided to quit his job and start his own business. The withdrawal never happened, and after years of unemployment and the need to support his mother, wife, a son and four daughters, he turned his eyes to the American Red Cross where officials were looking for good interpreters with experience in administration. "It all looked like my work experiences in the U.S. Army were meant for this," Choe said.
<strong>What is your job in American Red Cross'
It would not be an exaggeration to say that my job touches nearly everything with the American Red Cross in Korea. Mostly, it is paperwork. Since American Red Cross is mostly staffed by volunteers, my hands are on the processing all of their paperwork to get them access to the places where they need to go. One part of my job includes consultation in case somebody has to be notified of an emergency situation with his or her families. I confirm the situation and help send the message through the networks among other American Red Cross stations before it is too late. When it is a U.S. Soldier, with the Army's support, we also arrange airplane tickets at no charge.
<strong>What else do you get involved with'
American Red Cross is a sister organization to Korean Red Cross. I help organize various events in both organizations as a liaison officer. When Gen. B.B. Bell (former USFK Commander) was leaving Korea, for example, the Korean Red Cross prepared an award ceremony for him and we went there to support. I see my job as helping to strengthen the ties between Korea and America, and supporting the Korean Red Cross is one of the important things I do. Years ago when the Korean Red Cross struggled with a shortage of instruments and teaching materials, I helped the American Red Cross offer them what they needed most. Now, the Korean Red Cross program has experienced a dramatic growth, so now I help arrange cultural events, invite people to each other's events, to help recognize distinguished volunteers.
<strong>How did you start working in American Red Cross'
To be honest, the need to support my family was greater than a personal motivation when I decided to get a job with the American Red Cross. However, as I have been working for many years, I take great pride in myself working with this humanitarian organization and I take great pleasure in helping others. Working here for 35 years has given me many memorable life experiences, and I am grateful that I can help people. Although I am an old man, I want to work as long as my body functions.
<strong>What does American Red Cross do for Army community members in Yongsan'
American Red Cross conducts many educational programs such as safety programs, baby-sitting programs, CPR classes, and first-aid classes for U.S. Soldiers and their families. I see my role in American Red Cross in supporting the Army family as a consultant for those who may need help, creating emergency networks and providing services in difficult circumstances.
<strong>What memorable moment do you recall after 35 years'
A few years ago, a man named Mr. Kim from Ulsan called me and asked for help. He first asked for help from Korean Red Cross, but the people there thought that the American Red Cross would be better able to provide services to meet his needs. For 25 years, this man had lost contact with his sister who married an American and went to the United States. He said that as he and his sister moved a lot, he could not find her. The usual problem we face when finding a person in America is that his or her name might not be recorded in English properly, which can likely make the process hard and long. I sent an e-mail to all of the American Red Cross stations in the United States, and fortunately, because her name was recorded, people there could find her address after just one week and track down where she was living. She was glad to hear from her brother. After that, Mr. Kim sometimes called me and showed his appreciation for all the work I did - this makes me very proud. Sometimes, it is sad that people do not know where to ask for help, even when American Red Cross is available to help. I hope that they know we are here always, ready to help.