By Walter T. Ham IV, Eighth Army Public AffairsJanuary 9, 2013
GANGHWA ISLAND, South Korea (Jan. 9, 2013) -- The mayor of a South Korean island recognized a U.S. Army staff sergeant for helping to keep the trails of a landmark mountain open for hikers.
Ganghwa Mayor Yu Cheon-ho presented a service award to Staff Sgt. Ryan Hayes, the noncommissioned officer in charge of Detachment J, for clearing the trails on Koryo Mountain.
Ganghwa's most prominent peak, Koryo Mountain towers over the island and provides commanding views of the Yellow Sea, the Han River Estuary and the North Korean border. It is the site of an Azalea Festival every Spring when the entire mountain turns purple and more than 20,000 tourists take in its scenic vistas.
"Our site is located on some of the most beautiful scenery in Korea," said Hayes. "We take pride in the area and take the extra time to make sure that all roads that lead to the site remain clear and serviceable to both our vehicles and the many hikers that visit the area.
"The area is known for its hiking trails, many of which begin near our site," Hayes continued. "We take the time to cut the grass at the beginning of the trails, around the lookout platforms and around the many signs in the area."
Hayes said a South Korean hiker noticed him at work and put him in for the Ganghwa Mayor's Award for Service.
A six-year U.S. Army veteran with two tours in Iraq and two tours in Afghanistan, Hayes arrived at Detachment J in July 2012.
"I quite simply could not have asked for a better assignment," said Hayes, who is originally from Alexandria, La. "I have grown as a Soldier and as an NCO."
Hayes' company commander also sang his praises.
"Hayes and the Soldiers of Detachment Juliet worked in their spare time to keep the road to Koryo Mountain clear in all weather," said Capt. Gregory Galstad, Company Commander of B Company, 719th Military Intelligence Battalion, 501st MI Brigade.
"They shoveled snow, cleared brush after any typhoons or storms and kept the road open for traffic," said Galstad. "Additionally, they regularly weed-whipped the road to the site, the photography platform and trailhead to the hiking trails on the mountain."
According to Galstad, a native of Sleepy Eye, Minn., the Ganghwa Island award ceremony was similar to an event in small town America.
"Everybody knew everyone," said Galstad.
Galstad said the service award was somewhat unprecedented.
"Staff Sergeant Hayes, if not the first, is one of the few foreigners ever recognized for their contributions to the community," said Galstad, a 16-year Army veteran who began his career as an enlisted Korean language linguist.