CAMP HUMPHREYS, South Korea – Despite the challenges of COVID-19, U.S. Army Pacific Command challenged its best Soldiers and noncommissioned officers to compete (while maintaining social distancing guidelines) for the title of the best warrior for the region.
During the competition, the best Army Soldiers stationed in areas bordering the Pacific Ocean competed against one another at their home stations, and when the points were tallied up, Spc. Hwui Yoo brought the title of best Soldier back for the 501st Military Intelligence Brigade to South Korea.
Yoo, a cryptologic linguist, with 719th MI Battalion, hails from Rochester Hills, Michigan. He enlisted in the Army after speaking with his older brother, Staff Sgt. Joon Yoo, who was serving as an Army recruiter in Georgia at the time. He plans to continue his military career to give back to the organization he credits with helping him to develop into a better person.
Yoo, who comes across as both humble, yet also confident, said he knows he would not have achieved the success without the support of his team, the NCOs within the battalion and the brigade as well as the support he received within the Eighth Army footprint overall. He elaborated that the two NCOs were instrumental during the process were his supervisor, Sgt. Richard Rufin, and Staff Sgt. Jee Hong, who was Yoo’s platoon sergeant during train up for the competition.
As an MI Soldier, Yoo said he feels he had advantages when it came to certain aspects of the contest, while when it came to other facets of events utilizing physical and Soldier task skills he felt he may not have put in the reps that competitors with more physical Military Occupational Specialties had.
“I definitely enjoyed the physical aspects of the contest, while I may not be the best at them as an MI Soldier usually working in an office,” said Yoo. “I enjoyed being able to go out and do the ruck (march), do the obstacle courses, and going to the range; moving around and getting hands-on with these tasks. I really enjoyed digging down into those. As an MI Soldier, we tend to put the mission first, ahead of the basic Soldier tasks, and usually those things aren’t very physical. I enjoy the physical things, and they are the most fun for me.”
When asked what led to Yoo’s success in the competition, Hong said, “Specialist Yoo is the epitome of a U.S. Army Soldier. He possesses a growth mindset and a can-do attitude. He strongly believes that talent can be developed through hard work, good strategies, and input from others. He is also intrinsically motivated and takes on challenges and opportunities head-on with no hesitation. Specialist Yoo leads by example; his enthusiasm and efforts are infectious within our organization and Army as a whole.”
Yoo said when he was told he had won the competition, it didn’t feel like real life to him, and it took a while for it to sink in.
“If I had to come up with one emotion, it would be gratitude,” said Yoo, “for the people who helped me out, and for the opportunity to go and compete at such a high level. It’s a unique experience and is something I am very grateful to have the opportunity to do.”
For the upcoming Army-level competition, Yoo said he is looking forward to getting down and dirty again with the physical tasks; learning from the competition, and having new knowledge and skills to bring back and share with his peers.
“I want to be a capable and competent ambassador of the Pacific Region and the 501st to this level of the competition,” said Yoo. “I hope that I can live up to that ideal.”
Command Sgt. Maj. Billy Budd, 719th MI Battalion command sergeant major, said the battalion is incredibly proud of his efforts. Starting before Yoo won the Alpha Company Soldier of the Month Competition through completing the USARPAC Best Warrior Competition, he has put in a tremendous amount of personal time and work to get to where he is today.
“Whether or not Spec. Yoo wins the Department of the Army competition, it will help him in his career,” said Budd. “Since this journey began, he has learned a lot about himself and his own limits. Everyone in the 719th is rooting for him and his success.”
The 501st Military Intelligence Brigade provides indications and early warning of actions by opposing forces that could threaten the tense but stable peace in the Republic of Korea. In the event of hostilities, the brigade’s mission shifts to providing combined, multi-discipline intelligence and force protection support to the United Nations Command/Combined Forces Command, the CFC Ground Component Command and their subordinate units.