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Capt. Ralph L. Bieganek, 23rd Chemical Battalion chaplain, chats with Kwon Su-jin at Seok Jeon Middle School in Waegwan, South Korea. Soldiers from the battalion are to teach the students English - and perhaps slip in some American history and culture lessons as well.
Capt. Ralph L. Bieganek, 23rd Chemical Battalion chaplain, chats with Kwon Su-jin at Seok Jeon Middle School in Waegwan, South Korea. Soldiers from the battalion are to teach the students English - and perhaps slip in some American history and culture lessons as well. (Courtesy of U.S. Army)

OSAN AIR BASE, South Korea — As principal of a small South Korean middle school, Lee Kang-hae knows native-speaking English teachers are scarce.

So, he said, his Seok Jeon Middle School staff and parents are pleased the U.S. Army’s 23rd Chemical Battalion has forged an “adopt-a-school” partnership with them. The Camp Carroll battalion is sending soldiers to the Waegwan school to teach English, plus some American history and culture.

“Only a school located in a big city or a luxurious private middle school will have a native-language English teacher,” Lee said. “We are a very small school, and now we have good native English teachers. The parents are very interested in this program.”

But the program also helps the troops, said Capt. Ralph L. Bieganek, the battalion’s chaplain.

“Some soldiers don’t have many casual opportunities to interact with Koreans,” Bieganek said. “This gives everyone an opportunity to meet, talk and mingle. It encourages interaction and highlights common interests. It makes the two groups more real to one another.”

The program also can help the students better understand the U.S.-South Korean military alliance and its origins in the 1950-1953 Korean War, said South Korean Army Capt. Park Ki-chul, liaison officer to the 23rd Chemical Battalion. “The program is also designed to show U.S. culture and history,” he said.

Maj. Sergio Dickerson, battalion executive officer, said, “Feedback from the children has been very positive. This is a new school so it is an opportunity for us to start on the ground floor, so to speak. It is important to make a good impression at an early age.”

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