FORT KNOX, Ky. - Army service opens the door of opportunity to Americans from diverse backgrounds to build a career pathway and to be all that they can be. For one Korean American Soldier, joining the U.S. Army provided exactly that opportunity and a chance to give back to the nation that fought for Korea more than 70 years ago.
Staff Sgt. Jee Lee, senior financial management analyst, 18th Financial Support Center, 1st Theater Sustainment Command, has served here since April 2021.
“My tasks are to provide support in the Army Central Command Area of Responsibility,” Lee said. “This includes Kuwait, Iraq, Jordan, and other locations overseas. I provide support by managing various reports; connecting different entities; and synchronizing with resource managers, the contracting office, Commercial Vendor Services, and the Defense Finance Accounting Service.”
Lee immigrated to the United States when he was 11 years old. “I didn’t know any English when my family moved to Pleasanton, California,” he said. “That was my biggest challenge – learning to speak English.”
“I liked attending school here, because it was more hands on. We spent more time in our chairs in Korea,” Lee described. “I loved the culture and American food, so moving here was no problem for me.”
Lee continues taking classes while serving and is working toward a degree in Information Technology. He is currently studying to earn his Security + Certification, which validates the skills necessary to perform core security functions and pursue a career in IT security.
Lee’s first duty assignment was in Korea. “I was able to spend more time with my girlfriend who lived there, so it was a good assignment,” he said. Now his fiancé, Young Ji Do, will be joining him at his next duty station.
“I was fortunate to be reenlisted by Maj. Gen. Michel M. Russell Sr. in a mass reenlistment ceremony at Cardinal Stadium last year, and I was able to choose my next duty station of Hawaii,” he said.
Lee’s father was also a Soldier, but for the Republic of Korea Army. “He served for three years,” Lee said. “All Korean men must serve. It used to be a three-year commitment, but now it’s 18 months.
My father was glad that I joined the Army, because he said that being a Soldier would make me a man,” Lee explained.
With the United States’ continued presence in South Korea, many servicemembers have been stationed in Korea. They have had the opportunity to participate in celebrations and have eaten traditional Korean food. Lee’s family continues some of these traditions.
Lee’s family celebrates the Lunar New Year, Seollal. “We eat tteok-guk, rice-cake soup. One of the reasons for eating Tteok-guk is that the long and cylindrical shape of the rice cake represents a wish for a long and healthy life. By consuming tteok-guk, people hope to add another healthy year to their age and start the new year afresh,” Lee explained. But his favorite Korean food is kalbi, which is marinated beef short ribs.
Lee shared some Korean history. “South Korea was demolished during World War II and the Korean War, and is still separated by demilitarized zone, also known as the DMZ,” Lee explained.
Describing the resiliency of the nation, “It only took eight years to recover and become a middle-income country from the poorest.”
And Lee appreciates the sacrifices made by Americans to his birth country. “With Memorial Day approaching, I know that many Americans died in Korea.”
“I was volunteering at the American Legion in Elizabethtown when I saw a man with a Korean War Veteran hat. I went up to him and shook his hand and thanked him; because I know that because of him, and others who fought in Korea, I am here today giving back and serving for America.”