TAEGU, South Korea — Kwak Un-yong has to travel 17 miles by bus to get to the Army’s Camp Carroll in Waegwan, where she puts in time as a volunteer lifeguard.
But Kwak, 22, sees her poolside volunteer work at the big logistics base not as a burden but as a rare opportunity to gain insight into American culture.
And the U.S. military sees her — and two other Koreans who volunteer to help Americans at the installation — as the kind of “good neighbors” whose friendship it wants to encourage.
Accordingly, the U.S. Army has honored the three with Good Neighbor awards that formally recognize their “selfless service” to the Camp Carroll community.
Awards also went to Ahn Jae-sam, who since August 2002 has taught the Korean martial art tae kwon do to soldiers of the Army’s 23rd Chemical Battalion, and to Moon Jong-wan, a retired South Korean army colonel who, as head of a local veterans group, has helped the installation memorialize Korean War events.
The Army presented the awards earlier this month at an on-post ceremony attended by U.S. and local Korean leaders. The Army’s 20th Area Support Group announced the awards in an Aug. 18 news release.
“The … contributions to the command are that it does give our soldiers and our civilian employees … an opportunity to interact with Korean people and get to know them better,” Kevin Jackson, 20th ASG spokesman, said in a telephone interview.
“And it also saves the command money. These people do a number of goodwill projects that significantly make our community a better place to live and work.”
Kwak, the lifeguard, is a Taegu resident and Keimyoung University graduate. She’s been volunteering as a lifeguard at Camp Carroll since February.
“I love to volunteer to come up here and help at Waegwan,” Kwak was quoted as saying in the news release. “I love the activity at the pool and I’m learning American culture so it doesn’t matter how long it takes to come here. I didn’t know much about American culture, but when I came to work here I found they are the same as Koreans and I’m very comfortable with it.”
Ahn is master of the Hoki Tae Kwon Do Gym in Waegwan, and has provided U.S. soldiers up to six hours of free instruction each week. The result: The battalion has six certified black belts.
Moon retired from the South Korean Army in 1989 and has been president of the Korean Veterans Association’s North Kyongsang province chapter since 1997.
During his KVA tenure, he’s hosted the 49th Anniversary Korean War Outbreak Commemoration Ceremony and donated funds toward a Camp Carroll project to raise a monument to the Korean War battle at Hill 303 in Waegwan.
The 20th ASG presented the awards as part of the U.S military’s Good Neighbor Program, an effort launched by U.S. forces commander Gen. Leon J. LaPorte to foster good relations between the U.S. military and the South Korean public.