CAMP CARROLL, Republic of Korea — Dr. Kim Chom Tong has served at U.S. Army Garrison Daegu’s Environmental Division since 1994. His long career as an environmental engineer is full of accolades and accomplishments, but one of his most notable contributions as a steward of the environment began in 2008.
Fourteen years ago, visitors entering Camp Carroll’s main gate were greeted by a field to their immediate right. Military equipment filled the landscape, flanking a small stream overgrown with reeds. The flat land surrounding the water was ideal for storing vehicles, which lined the perimeter walls.
But where some saw convenient parking, Kim saw an opportunity.
“We determined that the area was a natural floodplain and that if we put some work into it, we could restore the ecosystem,” said Kim.
Today, that restored ecosystem is known as the Camp Carroll Wetland, a conservation project that has created an entire habitat for plants and animals native to the Republic of Korea. It took years to accomplish with extensive support provided from U.S. Army Installation Management Command leadership — coupled with thousands of hours of work by the USAG Daegu environmental team.
Environmental Engineer Dr. Choi Kyung Ae remembers the initial stages of the project well.
“When we decided to restore this wetland there was nothing here but soil. But we started to transplant all the trees and grasses. Dr. Kim planted many of the trees here by hand. Basically, he built this wetland,” said Choi.
“If you ever look at some of the historical photos of the wetland, a lot of the trees now were little saplings when he started this project. I credit a lot of the maintenance and preservation of what we’re looking at now to Dr. Kim,” added Environmental Division Chief Richard Santos.
The trees and grasses grew under the watchful eyes of the environmental team and in time their effort was rewarded — today the wetland boasts significant biodiversity. A recent natural resource inventory found 134 varieties of plants, 180 different insects and 11 species of fish make the wetland their home. The 600-foot stream corridor is also a popular resting spot for migratory birds which utilize the wetland as a source of food and water.
“Wetlands are like a natural filter for the earth. So, when rain comes all the plants and vegetation absorb the water. And then the surplus water goes underground and becomes groundwater, part of the water reservoir below. So, it absorbs the water during the rainy season and releases it during the dry season. That’s why it's very important to maintain the wetland. For the plants and the ecosystem,” said Choi.
Maintaining the wetland will be a bit different moving forward. This marks the last year Kim will serve directly as one of the wetland’s caretakers. Scheduled to retire in July, Kim returned briefly from terminal leave to say goodbye to his team at the wetland he helped restore.
Many will miss Kim's guidance.
“When I think about him retiring I almost cry because he is my mentor,” said Choi. “When I started working here twenty years ago he was my age and he taught me everything.”
Others will miss his passion.
“I always see him come to work with enthusiasm to make something happen,” said Santos. “He’s always full of energy. To see this guy in action — I want to be [like] Dr. Kim. He’s got me motivated.”
The Camp Carroll Wetland was a parking area once. Now water flows past reeds and stones. Small silver fish dart around beneath the surface of the pond. Bees hover over flowers swaying in the wind near the walking path. Sparrows perch and chirp from trees planted long ago by a dedicated environmental engineer.