Friendship Week narrows KATUSA, GI culture gap
TAEGU, South Korea — Occasionally, Army Pvt. Elena Avelino needs help writing up the travel orders or simply wants to borrow a label.
That’s when she turns to another operations clerk, a Korean Army soldier assigned to the U.S. Army.
Both work for the 20th Support Group at Camp Henry.
“He does a lot of TDY orders, and I do that, too,” said Avelino. “So I’ll ask him for help because he has more experience than me. … [The Korean soldiers] contribute a lot in the office.”
Avelino’s associate is a KATUSA, one of some 4,000 Korean Army soldiers assigned to U.S. Army units around South Korea. They work a wide range of soldier jobs — police, infantry, chemical decontamination and a host of clerical slots.
They’re integrated into U.S. units and live, work, and train as unit members.
Those in leadership slots can supervise not only other KATUSAs but U.S. soldiers as well.
To acknowledge the contribution of KATUSAs, and help foster camaraderie and cultural understanding among KATUSAs and their U.S. soldier counterparts, the Army in South Korea marked its 6th Annual KATUSA-U.S. Soldier Friendship Week May 1-9.
Troops of both nations took part in sporting events and shared cultural and entertainment activities.
In Taegu, the events gave a limited but welcome chance for the South Korean and American troops to interact.
“Everything we did for the whole week, in one way or another, it helped the KATUSA soldiers know the Americans better, and it helped the Americans know the KATUSA soldiers better,” said Sgt. Kim Won-joong, senior KATUSA in the 20th SG’s Headquarters and Headquarters Company. “Usually our relationship is professional.”
Pfc. Jarrid Herr, an MP with the 188th Military Police Company at Taegu’s Camp Walker works frequently with KATUSA patrol partners. “Their willingness to learn and their ability to catch on to details is outstanding,” he said.
He attended a barbecue last Saturday, where KATUSAs and American troops “did a whole swap back and forth” about their respective nations and cultures.
“I’m a cowboy,” said Herr, 21, a Kansas native who’s ridden bulls and steers and favors country music and Western clothing. “I dress differently than half the other soldiers and they wondered why, and I told them it was the way I was raised.”
Avelino, 19, of Naugatuck, Conn., was in a talent show with a cast of both KATUSAs and U.S. soldiers. She found it and the other friendship events worthwhile.
“First, when I got here, I thought it was gonna be kind of weird for me to get to know their culture,” said Avelino, who came to South Korea in January.
“But when I did the talent show with them and got to talk to them, all this stuff I was thinking before about how it might be hard to talk to them. … they were just like me. They were normal people.”