By Sgt. Maryam Treece, 20th Public Affairs DetachmentOctober 30, 2018
More than 750,000 people gathered in Gyeryong, South Korea, Oct. 5-9 for one of the largest military festivals in the world, the Republic of Korea Army 16th Ground Forces Festival.
U.S. and Korean Augmentation to the U.S. Army, or KATUSA, Soldiers from Eighth Army and its six major subordinate commands were present at the festival serving as ambassadors for the U.S. Army and subject matter experts for their equipment.
"It has been an amazing experience having the opportunity to interact with the local community, working alongside the ROKA and KATUSA soldiers," said Staff Sgt. Joshadeth Camacho, a cannon crewmember section chief assigned to B Battery, 1st Battalion, 41st Field Artillery Regiment, 210th Field Artillery Brigade, 3rd Inf. Div. and native of Toa Baja, Puerto Rico. "It's incredible to watch how both armies (U.S. and ROK) can come together in one place and show off our skills and capabilities."
The festival included ROKA demonstrations, static displays, musical performances, entertainment and U.S. Army exhibits including infantry fighting vehicles, armored personnel carriers, surface-to-air missile systems, small arms display, an explosive ordnance disposal team and the Eighth Army Experience booth.
The festival allows Eighth Army to showcase the equipment and robust skills of Soldiers stationed in Korea and gives festivalgoers an opportunity to witness the KATUSA program, highlighting the long-standing alliance and strengthen friendships between the two nations.
"We are here because of 'Katchi Kapshida' and just as it says, we go together," said Staff Sgt. Brendan Davidson, an Explosive Ordnance Disposal specialist and team leader originally from Grass Valley, California, assigned to 718th Ordnance Company, 23rd Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear and Explosive Bn., 2nd Inf. Div. "The U.S. and ROK have had an alliance since the 1950's and being here at the Ground Forces Festival has been a great opportunity to show that we do work together and we train hand-in-hand everyday with our KATUSA soldiers."
Davidson and the EOD team brought the TALON and Packbot military bomb disposal robots, two EOD-8 bomb suits, a Remote Hook and Line bomb disposal kit, the MK 32 MOD 3 x-ray kit, simulated improvised explosive devices, simulate unexploded ordnance and an M136 84mm recoilless rifle, or AT4.
Festivalgoers had the opportunity to try on the EOD-8 bomb suit, the Improved Outer Tactical Vest and Advanced Combat Helmet at the Eighth Army Experience booth.
"People seemed really excited to get into the EOD-8 bomb suit and try it, but as soon as they put it on their reaction was, 'wow, this is really heavy'," said Davidson. "It's truly an experience for the people who have the opportunity to try it on, because although the suit itself looks cool, it's work and it's not easy."
The booth featured a multimedia display hosted by the 20th Public Affairs Detachment, 2nd Inf. Div., which included media portraying Eighth Army and its six major subordinate commands training alongside their ROK counterparts, a photo opportunity and hands-on experience with small arms.
2nd Lt. Alex Weatherhead, a fires direction officer for B Batt., 1st Bn., 41st Field Artillery Regiment, 210th Field Artillery Bde., 3rd Inf. Div. and native of Palmetto, Florida, said the festival had been an influential experience for both his Soldiers and festivalgoers.
"Since setting up, we have been taking pictures with the Korean nationals who are here for the festival," said Weatherhead. "It has been great for us to get this exposure out among the people, seeing them happy about us being out here and displaying our equipment."
Weatherhead was also able to network with ROKA soldiers at the festival, providing contact information for the incoming rotational unit to help facilitate future operations.
"It's more than just taking photos," said Weatherhead. "It is extending that hand out and working the interoperability piece."
Korean nationals and the ROKA were also able to witness the KATUSA program in action. The KATUSA soldiers explained the equipment at their static displays, answered questions about their experiences working with the U.S. Army and they also helped translate between their U.S. counterparts and the festivalgoers.
"It's good for people to see the military service, wear the military uniforms and experience what the military has to offer," said Pvt. Jeon, Hyun-Wook, a KATUSA and maintenance specialist working with B Batt., 1st Bn., 41st Field Artillery Regiment, 210th Field Artillery Bde., 3rd Inf. Div. from Goyang, South Korea. "A highlight for me has been translating for the people at the festival and the U.S. Soldiers, because it helps me with my language skills."
Some highpoints from the festival included musical performances from the Eighth Army Band and demonstrations from ROKA soldiers performing martial arts and rifle drill and ceremony.
"This was my first time at GFF and I have so much pride in my country for the display they are putting on at the festival," said Cpl. Ji, Dong-Hyun, a KATUSA and cannon crewmember with B Batt., 1st Bn., 41st Field Artillery Regiment, 210th Field Artillery Bde., 3rd Inf. Div., originally from Icheon, South Korea. "Although I ETS (expiration -- term of service) in five months, I want to come here next year as a civilian, experience all that GFF has to offer and come back to the Eighth Army booth."
The annual, week-long military festival was a first-time experience for many of the U.S. Soldiers who had the chance to interact with festival attendees and their ROK partners.
Cpt. Patrick M. Connelly, commander of the 20th PAD, 2nd Inf. Div., from St. Petersburg, Florida, said the festival was an amazing opportunity for him and his people to work alongside their ROK counterparts while experiencing Korean culture and traditions.
"We always talk about Katchi Kapshida and the festival gave us the opportunity to not only come together but to experience part of the unique, vibrant culture of the country," said Connelly. "This event embodied what it means to work side by side with our ROK teammates and it was an overwhelming feeling to witness the commitment of both nations."