Alliance-building cultural tour in South Korea is free for US troops
Stars and Stripes February 7, 2024
CAMP HUMPHREYS, South Korea — U.S. troops serving in South Korea, along with their families and civilian coworkers, have an opportunity to spend three days taking in the most intriguing sites associated with the nation’s culture, and at government expense.
U.S. Forces Korea and the South Korea Ministry of National Defense cosponsor the Korean Cultural Immersion Program. USFK maps out the tour and the defense ministry pays for it all.
“One thing that I do think is important, that especially soldiers should know, is when we say free, it’s free,” Michael Arnold, chief of policy and programs for USFK, told Stars and Stripes at Camp Humphreys on Feb. 1. “They’re not charged leave; you’re not charged anything.”
The Ministry of National Defense has paid $1.1 million each year since 2020 for transportation, tickets and entrance fees and accommodations associated with the program.
According to the program itinerary, buses depart from various U.S. installations and travel to historic sites like the Korean Folk Village in the province of Gyeonggi; the National Hangeul Museum in Seoul, which showcases the Korean alphabet; and Haslla Art World, a contemporary art gallery in Gangwon province with about 200 pieces of art. Afterward, guests will stay in a hotel.
The tour starts in late April. Each U.S. installation has 200-300 slots available, and the program can accommodate about 2,400 participants.
Interested parties must sign up through their chains of command. These slots are first come, first served, and service members must request a three- to four-day pass for the trip.
The program is a tool the United States and South Korea employ to further strengthen their alliance, Arnold said. It gives U.S. service members and civilian employees, including contractors, and their families an opportunity to explore South Korea’s history and culture.
“I just want people to know and realize that we are eternally thankful for what we’ve been given so far,” Arnold said. “The past four years, [South Korea’s defense ministry] has fought for this program to show how they are committed to this Alliance and the importance that has in our relationship.”