South Korean group hosts 300 U.S. servicemembers
SEOUL — Three hundred American troops representing U.S. Forces Korea were treated to food, fun and prizes Tuesday night at the 32nd annual Korean-American Friendship Association’s “Thanksgiving and Year-end Party.”
The troops, clad in their dress uniforms, were welcomed to an enormous Shilla Hotel ballroom by association chairman Dr. Wang Sang-eun, who told them that they were part of a long line of U.S. personnel who have made invaluable contributions to the country and region.
He explained that the U.S. military presence has enabled South Korea to make huge economic, political and social strides since the end of the Korean War.
He also called on South Korean politicians to support the U.S.-South Korean alliance, saying that the majority of the country’s citizens don’t trust the ruling party.
With only one month until South Korea’s presidential elections, Wang said, he has hopes that “relations will become even closer and much friendlier.” He called the U.S. troops in the room his “special guests.”
U.S. Forces Korea commander Gen. B.B. Bell told the guests — enlisted troops and company-grade officers — that KAFA plays an important role in the peace, security and stability on the Korean peninsula. Bell said that when the organization was formed in the mid-1970s, founders said, “we need a way to project the friendship between the two nations.”
The association, which sends troops on countless day trips, home visits, concerts and other events — such as Tuesday’s annual party — has spent more than $9 million supporting U.S. troops since its inception, Bell said.
He had the gathered troops shout out a loud “kapchi kapchida,” Korean for “we go together,” to Wang and other KAFA members.
Bell also took the chance to thank his troops directly for their service, explaining that they’re making a difference by volunteering to join the military. “It’s really a big deal,” Bell said of their service. “You are investors in democracy.”
He also said that the goal is to maintain the U.S.-South Korean alliance, “as long as we are welcome and wanted” in this country.
Bill Stanton, deputy chief of mission for the U.S. Embassy in Seoul, gave the toast before the buffet-style dinner, thanking the South Korean government, KAFA and the U.S. troops.
Petty Officer 1st Class Kevin Summers, stationed with the Special United States Liaison Activity Korea, called the event “awesome.”
“I’ve never seen so many stars,” in one place, he said of the host of general-grade officers attending the event.
Spc. Randall Oyler, 8th Army, said he thought it was good to be able to get off the base and see a bit of South Korea. “I think it’s nice,” he said of being picked to attend the event.
When Private 1st Class Mark Domingo, of the 38th Chemical Detachment, learned that he could win an airline ticket, he had a quick response. “I hope I get it,” he said.
Prizes included food gift sets, ski trips, cosmetic sets, digital cameras, DVD players, two notebook computers, two round-trip tickets from Seoul to Europe and two round-trip tickets from Seoul to the United States, among other gifts.