By Cpl. Jin Choi, USAG Red CloudJanuary 19, 2011
CAMP CASEY, South Korea -- The Army and Air Force Exchange Service motto is "We go where you go," and one trailblazing 49-year-old Korean employee from Camp Casey, South Korea, is proud to say he did just that.
Yi Seung-joon, service business administrator for The Exchange-Korea Northern Area, not only deployed to Kuwait in June of 2009, the Seoul-native who now calls Uijeongbu, South Korea, home, was among the first group of Korean employees from the Exchange to ever deploy to another country in support of the U.S. Army.
He was joined by Park Hyeon-soo, 302nd Brigade Support Battalion Exchange manager, Camp Casey; Kim Seong-hyeon, stockroom manager, Osan Air Base; Kim Sang-min, Exchange department manager, Camp Humphreys; Kim Jak-soo, shoppette assistant manager, Yongsan Garrison and Kang Seok-hoon, shoppette manager at Camp Henry. But when his colleagues returned to Korea the following their six-month tour of duty, Yi extended his contract twice.
He deployed and worked in his same capacity as a service business administrator at Camp Arifjan, Kuwait, which is south of Kuwait City, west of the Port of Shuaiba and Kuwait Naval Base. The 15-year Exchange employee returned to his homeland last month following 18 months of service abroad.
"I wanted to realize our AAFES motto, 'We go where you go,'" he said about being one of the first Exchange employees from Korea to deploy to another country to work in support of Soldiers, civilians and families.
"Also, I wanted to experience more interesting and different things in my career and life. A lot of things were different for me to work with employees from all the different countries such as Germany, India, Philippines, Kosovo and others."
It wasn't just the opportunity to work with people from other countries that opened his eyes. Yi encountered and overcame very different working conditions.
During the cool months in Kuwait the average temperature was about 86 degrees Fahrenheit, but it soared to a high of 122 degrees with high humidity during the summer. He also fondly recalls watching camels lumbering through the desert in the extreme temperatures.
"But still, these are experiences that I will remember for the rest of my life," he said.
Yi said he considers himself lucky to be chosen from the 150 applicants to deploy with the Exchange. He'd like to serve U.S. troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, too, but at the present time the Korean government prohibits its citizens from working in those locations.
While he's happy to be home, Yi wants to encourage his fellow employees to go where U.S. servicemembers go.
"I recommend that Korean employees deploy if they have a chance to experience something worthwhile and interesting," he said. "Just take that chance, or it may never come again."