April 24, 2008
By LTC(P) Alan Bernard
With Cynthia Flagg, Chad Lucy, and Elizabeth Pyon
Forget everything that you've heard about Republic of Korea (ROK). At best, people are sharing humorous anecdotes and popular statistics. At worst, comments about Korea are a projection of political propaganda and lingering memories of the wildly popular television series, "MASH." I'll never forget the images that raced through my head - none of them good - when I heard that we were on assignment to Korea. Thankfully, they couldn't have been more wrong.
We flew in to Osan Air Force Base on the Patriot ExpressA,A1, and my sponsor picked us up and drove us to Yongsan Garrison. Located in the heart of Seoul, Yongsan is the best kept secret in the military! Seoul is one of the most modern high-tech cities in the world; minutes away from eye watering shopping districts, the spectacular Han River, and subway lines that take you to anything your heart desires. Who knew'
We checked into the Dragon Hill Lodge, bar none the most beautiful military hotel I've seen in 25 years, which also serves as the focal point of community life in Yongsan. The hotel features "The Point", a fully equipped gymnasium complete with swimming pool, Jacuzzi hot tub, steam rooms and saunas; four full-service restaurants ranging from buffet style to fine dining; fast food and delicatessen restaurants; and a shopping center that includes retail specialty shops, a full-service bank, beauty salon, and travel agency. The perfect venue for holiday celebrations, conferences, and balls. And, -- Oh, by the way - Sunday brunch at the Dragon Hill Lodge will give you plenty of reasons to visit The Point!
Our next stop was the 1st Replacement Company welcome center, operated at the time by 8th Personnel Command. Eighth Army had just invested millions of dollars to make this welcome center the most modern, inviting first impression of Korea possible.
Facilities and Services
I was confused. Where were the Quonset huts' I thought this was supposed to be a "hardship tour!'" Pick any spot in the capital city of Seoul - or any major Korean city. This was clearly NOT your father's Korea!
Much has been done to truly make Korea - and Yongsan Garrison - the Assignment of Choice. New or completely renovated facilities include an overpass between Yongsan main post and south post, a multiplex movie theater with free admission, and new ultra-modern low-rise and high-rise apartment towers at Yongsan, Camp Humphreys, and at Osan Air Base. The 121st Combat Support Hospital has been expanded and fully renovated. Athletic fields have been astro-turfed, and a mini-running track was constructed in Yongsan. Much of the on-post housing has been completely overhauled and renovated.
A,A1 Use of the Patriot Express was discontinued in 2005. Today, all inbound personnel arrive by commercial airlines at Inchon International Airport (three years running as one of the best airports in the World).
USFK Good Neighbor Program
Unique to Korea is the United States Forces Korea (USFK) Good Neighbor Program (GNP). Founded in 2003 and institutionalized into USFK Regulation 600-55 in 2006, the GNP has evolved into a primary engagement strategy for USFK and the ROK.
The GNP today stands as a USFK hallmark for fostering harmonious relations between Service members and our Korean hosts. The key pillars of the program include community outreach programs, Korean cultural awareness training and ROK-US military-to-military activities. For example, many Service members and their families teach English to Korean children and adults, volunteer at orphanages, and assist with humanitarian projects and conservation efforts. In a reciprocated fashion, Korean individuals and families - or "Good Neighbors" - invite American Service members into their homes to experience Korean traditional food and customs. These types of events had been going on for the past 60 years but the creation of the GNP served to institutionalize and focus our efforts.
The Korean People
The outpouring of hospitality by the Korean people is inspiring. Thousands of private citizens volunteer their services each year in support of the American military community and organizations like the American Red Cross and the United Service Organization (USO). They assist with trips, tours, and celebrations. Additionally, hundreds of Korean private businesses voluntarily step forward to sponsor visits to famous Korean tourist destinations and historical sites, holiday celebrations and military balls. The most breathtaking balls I've ever attended have been in Korea paid for in large part by the generous donations of private Korean business.
One of the most notable among our many positive encounters in Korea was a four-day trip completely sponsored by the Hyundai Corporation treating 200 military personnel to luxurious accommodations in their Gwanjiu Resort Hotel, lavish dining, guided tours of temples, burial grounds and ancient palace ruins, shows at a Korean Expo theme park, and tours of the Hyundai Corporate Headquarters, Hyundai University, and Hyundai heavy ship building and automobile manufacturing facilities. The President of Hyundai said it was their way of thanking the US military community.
We have hosted Korean Military Cadets in our home and been hosted by them at the Korean Military Academy. We've hosted Republic of Korea military leaders to games of soccer (where they thrashed us) and been hosted by them to games of softball (where we thrashed them). We've also participated in ski trips, hikes, sightseeing excursions, and a visit to the Korean Folk Village all free of charge courtesy of our wonderful Korean military hosts.
Department of Defense Dependent Schools-Korea (DoDDS-K)
At the conclusion of our third year in Korea, my wife and I adopted an 11-year-old daughter, thus beginning our association with the Department of Defense Dependent Schools-Korea (DoDDS-K) district. What a great experience!
DoDDS-K really cares about our kids and does everything possible to ensure that no child is disadvantaged by an assignment in Korea. All schools are accredited including the elementary schools. Normally in the States, only secondary schools are accredited. To maintain that accreditation, Korea schools are subject to a full inspection/evaluation every five years to ensure compliance with 107 quality indicators.
Student achievement in the Korea District is noteworthy. Based on the results of the Terra Nova, a standardized achievement assessment that is administered to all DoDEA students in Grades 3 through 11, DoDDS-K students consistently outperform their stateside and DoDEA peers. For the past three years, students scored between the 60th and 75th percentile in the areas of Reading, Language, Mathematics, Science and Social Studies.
In addition, DoDDS-K high school juniors and seniors scored higher on the SAT (Scholastic Aptitude Test) than the national average in mathematics and writing for the past three years. For School Year 2006-2007, out of 224 high school seniors stationed in Korea, 220 students graduated. Additionally, scholarships totaling $5,433,397.00 were awarded to DoDDS-K students from a combination of State, local, military/ROTC, and grant sources. Equally impressive, thirty-five JROTC cadets received appointments to some of the most prestigious Military Academies in the United States.
DoDDS-K offers research-driven support services to students of all ages, from Pre-Kindergarten to High School in the form of more than 17 distinct programs. Advancement Via Individual Determination (AVID), READ 180, Literacy Facilitators as part of the Pacific Literacy Project, Tutors for Math Matters, and the Algebra Coaching Initiative are specialized instructions supported by full-time instructors and proven methodologies that have resulted in more than 97% of DoDDS-K students having a valid and documented post secondary plan for graduation. No matter the age of your kids, they will receive the best possible education in Korea.
To assist in that effort USFK formed a partnership with DoDDS-K in 2006 called Partners-in-Education. The command brought training teams to the Peninsula to conduct Transition Counselor InstituteA,A2 (TCI) training for educators on the special needs of military students moving from state to state and often across the globe. Parent-to-ParentA,A3 workshops trained more than 200 parents on how to make the most of their child's education and best prepare their children for college. And, high school students voluntarily serve as student sponsors for incoming students under the Student-to-StudentA-a,!f (S2S) program.
USFK's Good Neighbor Program further compliments the partnership by creating cultural exchange opportunities designed to increase interaction between Service member students and local Korean students, as well as complement and enrich the DoDDS-K experience by tapping into the abundant educational and cultural resources and opportunities of the host country. Korea is well-known for its strong academic, cultural and athletic capacity - particularly among its youth. The GNP promotes high-level student exchanges while providing opportunities for collaborative activity between Korea and the US.
A,A2 Transition Counselor Institute (TCI) is a program sponsored by the Military Child Education Coalition.
A,A3 Parent-to-Parent is a program sponsored by the Military Child Education Coalition.
A-a,!f Student-to-Student (S2S) is a program sponsored by the Military Child Education Coalition.
Will a military assignment to Korea hurt my career'
Of course the short answer is "no". If anything, a military assignment in Korea can be the turning point in a military career. Last year 4,951 Soldiers stationed in Korea were promoted. And, over 5,000 Soldiers who had previously served in Korea were promoted.
Career enhancing jobs for Soldiers abound. With USFK Headquarters located in Area II and units belonging to Eighth United States Army located in the following areas: USATC-K (Areas I-IV), 19th Expeditionary Support Command (Areas I-IV), Second Infantry Division (Areas I-III), 35th Air Defense Artillery (Areas III-V), 18th Medical Command (Area I-IV), 1st Signal Brigade (Areas I-V), 501st Military Intelligence Brigade (Areas II-IV) and Installation Management Command-Korea (Areas I-IV). And, because 80% of Service members in Korea continue to serve one-year tours, Service members serving here are exposed to a higher volume and variety of issues than they would be elsewhere in the world. Bottom line: This is a great place to get experience!
Why Korea' Why now'
The really exciting news (and why I'm writing this article) is that the opportunity for family accompanied assignments in Korea has increased across the Penninsula. In an August 2007 memorandum to the Korea-based Service component commanders, the USFK Commander, General B.B. Bell wrote:
"USFK has a unique opportunity to enhance the stability of our force, while materially decreasing and positively impacting the heavy PERSTEMPO stress on Service members and their families. Given the continuing complexity of repetitive combat tours, the stress on our families due to extended separation continues to rise. We all have a responsibility to seek appropriate methods and opportunities to provide our Service members with as much family stability as is feasible."
When given the opportunity, military families want to be together so increasing opportunities for families to be together is the right first step in Korea's crusade to become "normal." Since its inception in April 2004, nearly 18,400 Soldiers - many on family-accompanied tours - have voluntarily extended their tours in Korea under the Assignment Incentive PayA-a,!aEUR (AIP) program.
Accordingly, DoDDS-K in partnership with USFK increased the capacity of schools by 628 seats for School Year 2008-09, including 344 additional seats in Yongsan alone. Area/Base commanders produced plans to construct additional classrooms. And, the Department of Defense Education Activity (DoDEA) rallied to the cause with funding for additional teachers, staff, and supplies.
A-a,!aEUR Assignment Incentive Pay (AIP) is a voluntary program under which Soldiers receive $300 extra per month in exchange for an additional one year commitment for service in Korea.
What should you do now'
Call your assignment manager and ask about family accompanied assignments in Korea.
This has been the most culturally enriching adventure my family has ever experienced. I'm so grateful that misinformation about Korea didn't dissuade me from coming here with them. We've loved the community life this assignment has afforded and the many wonderful friendships we've made with the Korean people. I can truthfully say that Yongsan Garrison is the most family-oriented place I've been assigned to in more than 25 years - the highlight of my military career!
If you are interested in a stabile assignment in a great family-friendly place that is both career enhancing and culturally enlightening, call your assignment manager today and ask about Korea. You'll be glad you did!
For full story with photographs visit http://imcom.korea.army.mil