The U.S. Air Force Cadet Choir performs at the Camp Red Cloud chapel on Thursday.

The U.S. Air Force Cadet Choir performs at the Camp Red Cloud chapel on Thursday. (Seth Robson / S&S)

CAMP RED CLOUD, South Korea — Voices of 34 U.S. Air Force cadets filled the chapel here Thursday with religious and patriotic music, bringing Easter cheer to servicemembers serving near the Demilitarized Zone.

The U.S. Air Force Cadet Choir members gave up spring break and paid their own way from the Air Force Academy in Colorado for an eight-day South Korean tour, said the choir’s officer in charge, retired Air Force Col. Clifford Utermoehlen.

The tour, which includes concerts at Osan Air Base, Pusan, Yongsan Garrison and in the field in Area I, is aimed at boosting troops’ morale over Easter, he said.

At Red Cloud, the blue-clad cadets began singing hymns at the back of the chapel before filing to the front and treating a small crowd to African-American spiritual music, American folk songs, sea chanteys, Latin American music and patriotic songs.

Choir president Cadet Eric Laake, 21, of South Bend, Ind., said he’d never sung in a choir before entering the Air Force Academy. The choir is open to any cadet who wants to join, he said.

“We have a pretty diverse group as far as musical ability goes. A lot have sung in choirs and one or two have almost professional experience. We have a conductor who takes in anyone who would like to be involved and we form sections of bass, tenor, alto and soprano. Those who have never sung before quickly learn how to sing and use their voices,” he said.

Choir vice president Cadet Christopher Coffman, 21, of Houston, said the South Korea tour was a good opportunity for the cadets to see the Air Force in an operational environment.

Coffman and Laake, both pilots, are to graduate from the academy in two months and expect to end up flying soon in some place like South Korea, they said.

“If you get assigned to any base right now, you are going to get deployed but in South Korea you are in a fairly tense environment all the time,” Laake said.

The tour also gives many of the cadets an opportunity to experience a foreign country for the first time, Coffman said.

“South Korea is beautiful. I have seen agriculture. I grew up in a city so I have not had a whole lot of experience of that,” he said.

A tour of the Joint Security Area, where North Korean and South Korean soldiers stand eyeball to eyeball, was shocking to the young cadet, he said.

“You are in a war zone. It is a constant reminder of what our troops go through. We really appreciate everything that our servicemen and women are doing over here being separated from their families and living under stress,” he said.

South Korea is an eye-opening experience for many of the young cadets, Laake said.

“It has been enlightening for me because I didn’t have an accurate view of anything outside the U.S. before I came here,” he said.

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Seth Robson is a Tokyo-based reporter who has been with Stars and Stripes since 2003. He has been stationed in Japan, South Korea and Germany, with frequent assignments to Iraq, Afghanistan, Haiti, Australia and the Philippines.

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