DAEGU, Republic of Korea – There were strange, rare cracklings felt – gravel crumbling beneath every step, creating clouds of dust that powdered her face with markings of determination and hope. Taking one deep breath, Ryu’s lungs are filled with perseverance – she powers through the last mountainside sprint and completes the grueling workout led by her evangelist.
Lt. Col. Sun Ryu, 498th Combat Sustainment Support Battalion commander, has had a unique military service path. Before joining the U.S. Army, Ryu was a human resource associate working for the Price Waterhouse Coopers (PwC) Fort Lee, New Jersey branch. One year after witnessing the devastating events of Sept. 11, 2001, Ryu quit her job, moved to South Korea, and received physical training from a church evangelist. Evangelist Park acted as Ryu’s personal trainer before joining the Army.
“I remember evangelist Park; she was in much better physical shape than I was then. I could barely do three push-ups before joining the Army,” Ryu added.
Ryu is a Korean American with little to no childhood memories of South Korea. Her only memory is, she says embarrassingly, incorrectly answering a question in elementary school. She also remembers returning to her desk and burying her head in humiliation.
Ryu’s family later moved to the United States, calling New York their home. She graduated from Francis Lewis high school in Fresh Meadows, New York, in ’96. She then pursued higher education at Cornell University, an Ivy League university based in Ithaca, New York.
“After graduating from Cornell, I worked as a human resources associate at Price Waterhouse Coopers in New Jersey for two years. I did not enjoy what I was doing as I was working with data rather than people,” Ryu recalled her past experiences.
Ryu witnessed the catastrophic attack on the World Trade Centers while on her way to work. These events and several personal testaments left Ryu eager to serve others within the community. Ryu says faith is her source of strength. She truly believed she would accomplish the act of helping others by volunteering with her local church. Unbeknownst to Ryu, her life was about to change drastically.
“One day, Dr. Abraham Park, senior pastor of the Pyungkang Cheil Presbyterian church located in Seoul, invited me to come to South Korea and teach English at the church’s pre-kindergarten English academy,” said Ryu. “In October 2002, I left New York and moved to Korea as an English instructor with my church. I needed this time to reflect and assess what I wanted to do next in my career. I enjoyed working with the teachers and teaching the little students,” she said.
Ryu asked Dr. Park to pray over her career. Dr. Park was known to respect and admire the U.S. Army greatly.
“Dr. Park encouraged me to join the U.S. Army. I was surprised as I didn’t know anything about the Army and was not physically and mentally ready. Then I prayed and believed that it was my duty to serve the U.S. military – the same military that restored and developed Korea into what it is now,” she added. “I often heard Dr. Park preach about a free country. He mentioned there is no family, home, property, or church without a country having its freedom. He was grateful for the U.S. military, their sacrifices, and the generosity shown toward the Korean people,” Ryu says.
Dr. Park was originally from North Korea, fleeing to the Republic of Korea before the Korean War. He was injured due to machine gun fire and was rescued by a U.S. Artillery unit. He had a metal rod in his leg. Soon after the war, he became a minister.
Ryu wholeheartedly clung to every word of advice from Dr. Park, and in May 2003, she visited the Eighth Army recruiting office in Yongsan to pursue a commission in the U.S. Army. She signed a contract to attend federal officer candidate school (OCS) and was commissioned as a quartermaster officer on Apr. 8, 2004.
In Oct. 2010, she returned to Korea as a senior captain assigned to the Eighth Army G4 (Logistics). In May 2013, she was appointed Secretary of General Staff (SGS) for Lt. Gen. (R) Bernard Champoux, then Eighth Army commanding general. In Jan. 2014, Lt. Gen. Champoux and Dr. Park promoted Ryu to Major. Later that year, Dr. Park was laid to rest.
Today, Ryu leads six companies as the 498th Combat Sustainment Support Battalion commander, headquartered in Waegwan, Republic of Korea. Ryu is known for her fitness, motivation, and drive. Her Soldiers can ‘thank’ evangelist Park for their long runs.
Volunteering is another way Ryu serves her community. Her battalion created opportunities for Soldiers and families to volunteer at local orphanages and youth centers.
Ryu often shares five strategies she believes people can use to harness a sense of tenacity and achieve their goals.
- Be resilient and remain positive – even when things do not go as expected.
- Reach out to your peers and mentors – they may have experienced similar obstacles.
- Manage expectations. One’s failures will build character.
- Do not be afraid to ask for help. Asking for help is not a sign of weakness.
- Continue your pursuit of learning (i.e., reading a book or listening to a podcast).
Developing leaders is integral to stewarding Ryu’s profession as an Army officer. The professional development opportunities for Soldiers, noncommissioned officers, and officers in the Republic of Korea include a broad spectrum of leadership and key development positions from squad leader to battalion and brigade command. Ryu is a testament to the quality leadership Soldiers experience when assigned to the 19th Expeditionary Sustainment Command, the 498th Combat Sustainment Support Battalion’s higher headquarters.