DONGDUCHEON, South Korea -- Although Soldiers roam around the city of Dongducheon, it is sometimes difficult for local citizens to interact with them. However, Soldiers from 210th Field Artillery Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division, are working to change that. The "Thunder Brigade" Soldiers regularly volunteer to teach English to local community members. From elementary school students to the elderly, the 210th Field Artillery Brigade is embracing its hometown of Dongducheon and helping to build bridges of understanding between Soldiers and the local citizens.
Beginning in December of 2006, the Dongducheon Volunteer Center's English Village program has been inviting students and Soldiers to come and participate in a joint learning effort. Taught every Tuesday and Thursday, the classes average about 30 to 35 English language students per night. The students have diverse backgrounds, ranging from Republic of Korea Army Officers to elderly individuals and teachers. Every student has enters the class with one purpose, to learn English.
This semester, which began in September, a total of 48 Soldiers and Korean Augmentation to the United States Army have come to help out their Republic of Korea neighbors.
Depending on their levels of English proficiency, the students are divided into Beginner, Intermediate, and Advanced level classes. The instruction is geared toward conversational English and taught by U.S. Soldiers and KATUSAs, this ensure that the students are gaining a working knowledge of the language.
"I don't have great listening skills, but the classes are good since I can have a comfortable conversation here," said Ms. Lee Myung-seon, a student in Intermediate class. "I think it has really helped me improve my skills."
According to Capt. Michael Perez, the Information Operations Officer as well as the Civil Military Affairs Officer for 210th FA Bde., the students not only learn English, but are share in cultural exchange as well.
"It helps strengthen the alliance. It is a great opportunity for U.S. Soldiers to understand more of the Korean culture," said Perez, a native of Chicago, Ill. "It goes the same for the Korean local nationals to understand the American cultures during the English classes."
For Pvt. Vincent Gates, a health care specialist assigned to Headquarters and Headquarters Battery, 210th FA Bde., it is a chance for both parties to get to know each other better.
"For U.S. Soldiers, we get to actually experience the views from Koreans. We get to physically talk to them and see how their day-to-day life is, see their culture from a person-to-person standpoint," said Gates, a native of Augusta, Ga. "It does the exact same thing for them; they get to see the world from our eyes. You get to see what it is like to live in Korea."
Staff Sgt. James Jun, a Field Artillery Automated Tactical Data System Specialist assigned to HHB, 210th FA Bde., also mentioned how teaching and volunteering his time to the locals makes him feel better.
"I am proud of myself when I think that I am helping these people," said Jun, a native of Orange County, Calif. His Korean ethnic background makes volunteering for the classes a personal duty. He has volunteered more than 10 times for the cause.
Jun also mentioned how this is a great opportunity for the Soldiers to interact with the local community.
"If it wasn't for an opportunity like this, it is very difficult for an ordinary citizen of Dongducheon to interact with the Soldiers," said Jun. "I think the program serves as a link or a bridge between the two groups. I hope that other Soldiers would come out as well to join the fun."
For Soldiers from 1st Battalion, 15th Field Artillery Regiment, 210th FA Bde., volunteering in local schools has become a customary service as well. As a part of the High-Five program of Dongducheon, the battalion has been sending Soldiers to its sister schools, Sangpae Elementary School and Dongducheon Middle School.
Each battery takes turns in sending about 10 Soldiers, including both KATUSA and American Soldiers, to spend an afternoon teaching students each week.
According to Yeom Eun-young, who manages the program for the middle school, the students have developed a special relationship with the Soldiers.
"The students love the Soldiers coming to teach," said Yeom. "They are not afraid of talking to foreigners and enjoy the classes."
Pfc. Chauntice Franklin, a Track Vehicle Repairer assigned to Headquarters and Headquarters Battery, 1st Bn., 15th FA Regt., mentioned how the classes enable the Soldiers and students them to share culture and become more comfortable together.
"It's a big exchange in cultures because they really have interacted with a lot of us," said Franklin, a native of Pensacola, Fl. "It's good to come out and be able to talk and show them we are just like them, so we are more comfortable together as one."