By Pfc. Lee Min-hwi (USAG-Yongsan Public Affairs)April 25, 2008
YONGSAN GARRISON, Republic of Korea - The 32nd annual KATUSA-U.S. Soldier Friendship Week brought U.S. and Korean Soldiers together in spirited competition and cultural exchanges April 21-25.
"It has been a great experience interacting with KATUSA Soldiers," said Pfc. Kristopher Mizwell, 362nd Signal Company, after a soccer match. "You never really get a chance to interact with them, and I had a lot of fun."
The week - designed to strengthen the working and cultural relationships between U.S. and KATUSA Soldiers - featured sporting events, cultural tours, concerts and unit-level activities.
"The contributions of our KATUSA Soldiers make the 8th Army what it is today," said Lt. Gen. Joseph F. Fil Jr., 8th U.S. Army commanding general, at the opening ceremonies April 22. "These young men are ambassadors for their nation and culture. It is a great opportunity for Americans to learn firsthand about the Korean people."
KATUSA, which stands for Korean Augmentee to the U.S. Army, is a 58-year-old program created at the onset of the Korean War. Selected Korean Soldiers serve alongside their U.S. Army counterparts to strengthen their communication and cultural relationships.
"The alliance is strong," said Col. Dave Hall, U.S. Army Garrison-Yongsan commander. "We have Korea's best and brightest standing in our formations, and we are proud to call them comrades in arms."
During the week, about 2,000 U.S. and KATUSA Soldiers played soccer, competed in tug-of-war and relay race competitions, exchanged cultural diversities, and enjoyed performances from Korea's best music artists.
U.S. Army Troop Command-Korea won the overall competition with a first place in soccer and second places in Korean wrestling and tug of war.
U.S. Soldiers gained insight into Korean customs with traditional costume shows, folk plays and kimchi making, while KATUSAs tasted chili and were treated to a barbecue.
They also got a chance to show off during a talent show featuring singing and dancing routines. The 1st Signal Brigade team won the talent show with a powerful rock performance featuring more than 15 U.S. and KATUSA Soldiers. Troop Command-Korea team garnered the most laughs as five KATUSA Soldiers dressed as females danced to a Korean pop song.
A highlight of the week's events were performances by various Korean celebrity music groups, such as RiAa, one of Korea's top rock vocalists. Watching Korean musical artists in concert perform was a treat for one KATUSA Soldier, Pvt. Jung Won-mo.
"Seeing great Korean performers visiting here and singing for us was something that we do not usually expect to happen," he said at the RiAa concert.
RiAa told the audience she was proud to perform for the first time at Yongsan. "I feel the atmosphere is very young and energetic," she said. "I really hope that there will be another chance to visit here to sing again."
"I am really happy that my unit was successful in many sporting events," said Pfc. An Ji-woong, a KATUSA Soldier who works at 8th U.S. Army headquarters. "Through this friendship week, I had a great experience meeting and interacting with American Soldiers."