During two weeks of annual training, Wyoming Army National Guard soldiers from the 197th Public Affairs Detachment worked alongside Korean Augmentation to United States Army soldiers, or KATUSAs, on U.S. Army Yongsan Garrison, South Korea.
Wyoming soldiers involved in the simulation exercise Key Resolve 2016 from March 4-17, learned about a part of Army history which continues to touch the daily lives of their active duty brethren stationed on Yongsan, and around the peninsula.
The KATUSA program started in 1950 during the Korean War and was designed to aid the United States and other forces in language communication. That tradition continues as Eighth Army Soldiers in South Korea still need to find effective ways of communicating with their South Korean military counterparts.
“While they are serving, KATUSAs allow us to communicate and operate seamlessly in what would otherwise be a very difficult environment,” said Sgt. Maj. Christopher Seaton, Eighth Army public affairs sergeant major.
For service members – representing various countries, ranks and religions – who enter this environment, KATUSAs keep the mission from getting lost in translation, Seaton said.
“KATUSAs provide translation support, cultural insight and a competent workforce,” he said. “They are the very symbol of the alliance. Without them, more U.S. soldiers would be needed to fill the jobs these KATUSAs do so capably.”
Sgt. 1st Class Jimmy Norris, Eighth Army Division public affairs command information noncommissioned officer, has trained and mentored several KATUSAs during his year-long tour in South Korea. Norris said, while the KATUSAs have a strong work ethic and respect for their jobs, making the jump into a public affairs environment can be difficult for them.
“They come from a very rank and age conscious society,” Norris said. “They’re sensitive about those things. So, a lot of the things an American public affairs soldier would do, like interview someone who out ranks them, that’s a little harder for them.”
Out of the 3,444 KATUSAs authorized by Eighth Army on Yongsan, four worked with the 197th, also teaching them about Korean culture. Sgt. 1st Class James McGuire, Wyoming National Guard public affairs chief said, “They were handy to have around for interpreting things and giving cultural insight to situations in our scenario.”
Many of the KATUSA soldiers love to work with American soldiers. They believe the 21 months of mandatory Army service will eventually help their careers. “I feel really lucky to be a KATUSA for several reasons,” said Sgt. Junbeom Baek, Eighth Army public affairs specialist. “First, I feel really lucky that I get to experience American culture. (Also), being here with Americans enhances my English-speaking skills, which will be very important in my career.”
During their time in the military, American public affairs soldiers can be deployed anywhere in the world, and some of them to rich cultures like South Korea. For a short time, Wyoming’s soldiers reaped the benefit of working with foreign forces who communicate in different ways.
“Learning to work with people who speak a different language and who have different cultural backgrounds is part of a modern military,” said Maj. Rebecca Walsh, Wyoming Army National Guard public affairs officer. “This experience has prepared Wyoming Army National Guard public affairs soldiers and officers to deploy and work alongside foreign armies.”
Having little to no idea of the Eighth Army tradition when they arrived on the peninsula, Wyoming soldiers like Walsh and McGuire returned home with a better understanding and appreciation for the role of the young Korean men who call themselves KATUSAs.