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South Korean Soldier Sees Alliance Firsthand

By Army Sgt. Steven Reeves

While growing up just outside of South Korea’s capital of Seoul, Pfc. Min Seob Lee of the South Korean army never really understood why American service members were in his country.

Click photo for screen-resolution image
Pfc. Min Seob Lee of the South Korean army is fulfilling his mandatory military commitment with the Korean Augmentation to the U.S. Army program. U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Steven Reeves

(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.

But after he was selected to serve in the Korean Augmentation to the U.S. Army program, known as KATUSA, Lee said, his attitude quickly changed.

“I wasn’t clear about what the U.S. Army does here,” Lee said. “But now I really see the commitment and dedication of the U.S. Army and its soldiers. I understand now that they are here to protect and defend Korea. I can see the values of the American soldier firsthand.”

Lee is attached to the 8th U.S. Army’s public affairs office, where his official job title is administrative assistant. But his duties also include driving and whatever else he can do to assist in the shop’s day-to-day operations.

Lee honed his English skills while living in Europe with his family and while studying at the University of California-Berkley.

“I do a lot of translating, as well as helping soldiers understand the Korean culture,” he said. “I like working with the U.S. Army and assisting in its mission to defend freedom in Korea.”

“KATUSA soldiers like Lee really make our operations run a lot smoother,” said Staff Sgt. Josephine Ampley of 8th Army public affairs. “Their language skills and overall contributions are a definite credit to the [South Korean] army, as well as being invaluable to the U.S. Army and our mission here.”

The KATUSA program began in July 1950 during the Korean War. Originally intended to match able-bodied Korean personnel with available U.S. equipment, the program has evolved into a cultural exchange and a symbol of friendship between the two nations.

Most South Korean men serve their 21 months of mandatory military service in one of their country’s service branches. A select few are chosen to augment the U.S. Army through the KATUSA program. These select individuals are conscripted citizens who, by obligation, put their lives on hold to serve their country and work alongside U.S. soldiers.

Lee said he wanted to be a KATUSA soldier after becoming immersed in American culture during his time as a college student.

“Having studied in America, I felt the KATUSA program was for me,” he said. “So I applied for it when it was time for me to complete my mandatory service.”

KATUSA applicants are first selected through a lottery. Once selected, trainees complete six weeks of South Korean army basic training and an additional three weeks at the KATUSA Training Academy.

“Being chosen in the lottery was pure luck,” Lee acknowledged. “But I am glad it worked out the way it did. This has been an invaluable experience for me.”

After completing his 21 months of mandatory military service, Lee said, he plans to return to the United States to pursue a law degree.

“Working with the U.S. Army has opened a lot of doors for me and [has] given me the discipline needed to be successful,” he said. “I am proud to call myself a KATUSA.”

Maj. Isaac Taylor, 8th Army public affairs, said the KATUSA program’s significance goes beyond the daily contributions made by soldiers such as Lee.

“It illustrates how really strong the [South Korean]-U.S. alliance is,” he explained. “It’s also amazing that they allow us to have not just any of their young men, but some of their highly educated future leaders who have goals that will reach far beyond the military and into all aspects of their society.”

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About Edited by Susan Bainbridge

At age 6, Susan was destined to be a journalist and photographer.  In 1980, Susan founded Bainbridge News and The Bainbridge Chronicle Newspaper. Bainbridge News specializes in Military and National Politics, including Military Funerals and Burials and Political Funerals and Burials.  Susan has covered the White House, the Pentagon and Capitol Hill. She has covered every president from Ronald Reagan to Barack Obama. Recognized for her versatility, Susan has also covered finance, crime, civil rights events, marches, sports, musical events and more. In 1990, she established Bainbridge Photography, an On-Location photography company. In addition to military and political events, including Military and Political funerals and burials, Bainbridge Photography expanded into covering ALL funerals and burials, receptions, weddings, real estate, inventory, insurance, portrait, head shot, pets, fire and Hazmat.  Miss Bainbridge believes in going the extra mile. "My Clients always come first." In 1980, Susan began her career in Washington, D.C., working for WMZQ Radio as a reporter and guest hostess from 1980 to 1985. Intrigued by radio, Susan wanted to write, freelancing for radio, television and print newspapers, including AP, The Washington Post, The Washington Times, The Northern Virginia Sun, The Press-Republican and The Bainbridge Chronicle (established by Susan Bainbridge). In 1986, Susan worked at WDCA-TV Channel 20 as a guest hostess for "Eye On Washington." From 1990 to 1994, Susan reported and anchored for "The Arlington Weekly News." Additionally, she produced a segment for the G. Gordon Liddy Radio Show. A prolific writer, while in high school in 1977, Bainbridge wrote an episode for NBC's "Little House on The Prairie" entitled "Laura's Best Friend." Though the show's producers did not use the script then, NBC producers encouraged Susan to pursue a writing and journalism career. Susan is a member of the National Press Club, the National Press Photographer's Association and the Society of Professional Journalists. Susan Bainbridge's recognitions include from former Presidents Ronald Reagan, George Herbert Walker Bush and Bill Clinton, former First Lady Nancy Reagan, former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, the late actor Lorne Greene, among many others. BAINBRIDGE NEWS was founded in 1980 by Susan Bainbridge (a sixth generation writer), a third generation journalist, a first generation photographer and a fourth generation entrepreneur. She is the first generation to establish a news business. Bainbridge News is dedicated in honor of Miss Bainbridge's late grandfather and idol, Mark S. Watson (The Baltimore Sun editor and war correspondent from 1920 to his death in 1966).

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