By Ms. Megan Garcia (Benning)December 14, 2018
FORT BENNING, Ga. (Dec. 14, 2018) - Chaplain (Maj.) Eric Park knows all too well the disappointment of waking up on Christmas Day to no presents or gifts.
"I was a child who grew up in poverty," said Park, who serves as the 199th Infantry Brigade chaplain at Fort Benning, Georgia. "My parents emigrated from South Korea in the late 70s. I was just a toddler, so I don't have many memories, but I do remember Christmases not having a present, and my parents having to deal with my disappointment. Knowing the disappointment I can still recall from my childhood memories to the mornings when finally I did wake up to Christmas presents, they were very different childhood memories."
Throughout the years, these experiences have motivated Park to make sure he always did his part to ensure as many children as he could help would never know that feeling. His time as a chaplain at 199th Infantry Brigade has been no exception.
For the second year in a row, Park helped organize a toy drive for the brigade. During the drive, which ran from Nov. 5 to Dec. 10, the brigade exceeded last year's donations by 40 percent, with donations going to Santa's Castle, an organization on post that helps junior Soldiers, and Valley Rescue Mission, a nonprofit Christian organization in Columbus, Georgia, Dec. 13.
"The drive was overwhelmingly well received in the same spirit that they received it last year," said Park. "Commanders and leaders really highly encouraged participation because of what it really signifies, but also this is us serving the country in another way. We cannot underestimate the value or diminish the positive effect that it has for our relationship with the rest of the community."
Col. Anthony Judge, commander of the 199th Infantry Brigade, believes sustaining this relationship is imperative.
"We have to maintain our linkage with the community, and this is just one means of maintaining that relationship and showing that we care about the citizens that we defend," Judge said. "This is probably one of the toughest times of the year, especially for people who are less fortunate, and it's not just a physically tough time, but it's a spiritually and emotional tough time."
Judge added it's also a way of paying it forward.
"By taking care of this generation, and by showing and demonstrating generosity and the care we have for the population, we hope to influence the next generation with our example," Judge said.
"I'm super proud of this brigade, not just as a commander," Judge continued. "I really am surrounded by the best people in the world. ... This is just a small example of how good they are."