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Pvt. Jeremy Banks (center) and Pvt. Robert Destree (left) help Han He-ji, a seven-year-old orphan, bowl during a goodwill event Saturday in South Korea.

Pvt. Jeremy Banks (center) and Pvt. Robert Destree (left) help Han He-ji, a seven-year-old orphan, bowl during a goodwill event Saturday in South Korea. (Seth Robson / S&S)

CAMP CASEY, South Korea — Soldiers from Camp Casey’s 9th Infantry Regiment, separated from family during the holidays, jumped at the chance Saturday to teach South Korean orphans how to bowl.

More than 50 2nd Battalion soldiers hosted dozens of Dongduchoen’s Ahsin Orphanage elementary school-aged children for the bowling day.

Communication was limited, but the language of bowling seemed universal.

“Strike!” everyone yelled when a young Korean boy knocked over the pins with a ball almost as big as he was.

Seven-year-old Han Hee-ji was among the most enthusiastic bowlers, returning repeatedly to fling colorful balls down the lane, then back to her table to sip soda from an oversized cup.

“That little fellow over there has potential,” said Pfc. Matt Evans, pointing to a young boy struggling toward the lane with a bright blue ball. “It reminds me of my little nephews,” said the soldier who spent six years in a U.S. bowling league.

Bowling with the soldiers appeared to be a big thrill for the orphans, especially the boys, Evans said. “It would probably be even cooler if we wore our uniforms,” he said.

Kim Kyung-mi, the children’s teacher and caregiver, said most of the 47 orphans were born to poor parents who could not afford to raise them. Some are from broken marriages. Most eventually will return to their parents.

“They want to play with the GIs, and this is a good chance to do that. They are very curious because the GIs are foreign,” she said.

Soldiers visit the orphanage monthly to celebrate children’s birthdays. They are also planning a Dec. 20 Christmas party.

Lt. Col. David Blain, the battalion’s commander, said his soldiers jumped at the chance to be with the orphans, who, like most U.S. soldiers in South Korea, will be away from their families over the holidays. “It is a difficult time of year,” he said.

The bowling party could become a regular quarterly fixture, Blain added.

“Every time we do something with the orphanage, we have more soldiers who want to go than we can accommodate. The soldiers cry more than the kids when it is time to leave,” he said.

“They are in a far-away country serving their nation. The relationship they have with the children takes them back to their own home — little brothers and sisters or their own children because they are separated from their families for a year or more.”

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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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