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CAMP RED CLOUD, South Korea — For two 2nd Infantry Division soldiers, coming to South Korea has been a kind of homecoming.

Both are ethnic Koreans who had lived in the United States, joined the U.S. Army and returned to serve with the 2nd ID near the Demilitarized Zone in Area I.

That is about all they have in common.

Pfc. Joong Kaang Yoon, 35, left South Korea in 2001 to work in Baltimore. He joined the U.S. Army in 2003 and returned to South Korea last year to serve as a cook with 1st Battalion, 72nd Armored Regiment’s Forward Support Company at Camp Casey.

Last month he was naturalized as a U.S. citizen and plans to settle in the United States. He has orders for Fort Hood, Texas, in April.

Pvt. Ryan Bueger, 24, who recently joined Headquarters Headquarters Company, Area I, was born in South Korea but grew up in Dallas after a U.S. family adopted him.

While in South Korea, Bueger plans to search for his birth parents, who he believes are from Pusan, he said.

“I have all the papers from the orphanage but I don’t know if there are any names on the paperwork. I could have a whole big family over here and not even know it,” he said.

South Koreans constantly mistake Bueger for a local, he said.

“People try to speak to me in Korean everywhere I go. I just tell them I can’t speak the language,” he said in a southern drawl.

For Yoon, English is a second language but his skills are improving through regular contact with other soldiers, he said.

“I stayed only two years in the U.S.,” explained Yoon, who worked as a mechanic before joining the Army.

“I was wondering about the U.S. Army and the military system. When I was 34 years old, it was my last chance to join the Army,” he said.

Service as an M-60 machine gunner in the South Korean army’s 2nd Infantry Division from 1989 to 1992 meant Yoon had a head start on other recruits during basic training in the United States.

“The U.S. military system and the Korean army system are the same style. U.S. basic training is almost the same thing,” said the soldier, who earned expert rankings in grenade throwing and machine-gun operation during basic training.

Life in the U.S. Army is a world away from service with the South Korean army, Yoon said.

“The ROK army is a duty. Most people in the ROK army are doing compulsory military service. For the U.S. Army, it is a job and there is a long history. In the ROK army there was no freedom and we worked until we slept. Here we have a lot of freedom after work,” he said.

[CAPTION]Seth Robson/Stars and Stripes

Pfc. Joong Kaang Yoon prepares rice for 1-72nd soldiers at Camp Casey. A native of South Korea, he has become a U.S. citizen.

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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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