Warrior Country chaplain returns, ministers in homeland
July 21, 2010
RED CLOUD GARRISON, South Korea - Warrior Country's new garrison chaplain has finally come home to her native land - to spread the gospel to Soldiers, civilian employees and their family members.
Chaplain (Lt. Col.) Suk-jong Lee was born and raised in Yongsan-gu in Seoul until she moved to New York at the age of 15 with her family. While it's been a homecoming in some ways, it's also a new experience.
"It's a different Seoul from what I remember,' she said. "When I went to Queens, N.Y., in 1971 I was impressed by all the tall apartment buildings ,and when I came back there are more here now than in New York."
Before coming to Korea earlier this month, she served as the 49th Quartermaster Group chaplain at Fort Lee, Va., which has the active duty Army's only two mortuary affairs companies assigned to it.
As she reflected on her time at Fort Lee, she said it was a "good, short one-year assignment" that helped to prepare her to become a garrison chaplain. Lee said she also benefited from the support and mentoring of the garrison chaplain there.
Lee was raised in a Presbyterian environment and has been an Army chaplain since November 1992, but she said it wasn't her first career choice.
"God tricked me," she said with a laugh. "It was not in my plans."
Prior to working as a chaplain, she was a chemist for a tobacco-related research firm. Her journey to the pulpit began innocently enough by attending the seminary. She opted seek that spiritual guidance because she wanted to teach Sunday school at her church.
"It forced me to read the Bible for the first time from cover to cover," she said about seminary.
Her faith has sustained her well, but it's her gusto for life that has made other chaplains stand up and take notice.
"She's a real hooah, hooah chaplain. She's jumped out of helicopters and down ropes," said Chaplain (Maj.) Alfred Grondski, Red Cloud Garrison deputy chaplain.
While Lee has the air assault wings to prove her mettle, she found the rigorous two-week course very challenging. To complete it, she had to beat the pace man on a 12-mile road march to the finish line or fail the course.
"I was falling behind and my instructor came next to me, encouraging me to finish," she said. "He said, 'if you make it, I'll go to church.'"
She found the strength to surge ahead and finish strong to earn her wings.
Not content to rest on her laurels, or more appropriately her wings, she also proudly wears a Combat Action Badge.
"I was at Mosul in Iraq and a sniper came," she said. Although a Soldier near her was injured during the attack, the chaplain said "I wasn't scared or feared for my life because I didn't know any better."
"Pro Deo et Patria" or "For God and Country" is the Chaplain Corps motto. It is this commitment that led Lee back to her native land to serve her God and her country.