By Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Lisa Wassilieff, U.S. Naval Forces Korea Public AffairsSeptember 17, 2006
SEOUL, Republic of Korea -- Hearing the chants of a Buddhist monk and stepping inside a temple that has existed centuries ago, is the opportunity that 120 U.S. servicemembers stationed in the Republic of Korea (ROK) had an opportunity to experience during a three-day tour of Gyeongju City. This city is considered the treasure house of Korean culture and its history dates back the Silla dynasty that existed thousands of years ago in 57 B.C.The tour, which took place from Sept. 12 until Sept. 14, was hosted by the Ministry of Patriots and Veterans Affairs (MPVA) in honor of U.S. servicemembers' outstanding service and contribution to Korean peace and stability. The money to fund this event came from the ROK taxpayers.The tour included transportation, meal and hotel accommodations in Gyeongju and English-speaking tour guides. The event included sightseeing tours of the city itself, Sokguram Grotto Temple, Bulguksa Temple, Hyundai Motors, Hyundai Heavy Industry Corporation and Korean Folk Village in Yong In City.Operations Specialist 1st Class Kevin Watson, a Sailor attached to Commander Naval Forces Korea, felt the tour was a good experience for him and that events like these are imperative to have."I enjoyed everything, the food, temples and the Hyundai Motor Company. These events taking place are important to so all servicemembers can understand why things are done a certain way here. This trip allowed me personally to learn a lot more about the different religions and marriage customs Koreans believe in," Watson said.To finish the tour off, there was also appreciation ceremony and dinner held at 63 Building, International Conference Hall in Seoul, ROK, on Sept 14. The dinner was a grand finale to this three-day cultural experience. It was held to once again remind the servicemembers just how much their outstanding service and devotion to duty is appreciated in the ROK.During the dinner, Watson and three other servicmembers, each from a different branch of service to include the Navy, Army, Air Force and Marine Corps, received a memento from the Honorable Park, Yu Chul, Minister of Patriots and Veterans Affairs (MPVA). Following that presentation, Army Gen. B.B. Bell, Commander, United Nations Command, Combined Forces Command and United States Forces Korea, reciprocated the kindness of the MPVA by presenting a bronze eagle statuette to Park. Bell also presented certificates of appreciated to his staff showing gratitude for the many goodwill programs sponsored by the MPVA that boost the morale of U.S. sevicmembers.In summary, the tour was an experience that allowed Sailors and other servicemembers stationed here to see all the beauty and culture that Korea has to offer.Watson and the other servicemembers who attended the tour are looking forward to further opportunities to experience Korean culture."I would love to attend another tour like this in the future to learn more of the Korean culture and heritage," said Watson.