Koreans Remember History as They Help Old, New Allies
By Capt. Steve Alvarez, USA
American Forces Press Service
MACDILL AIR FORCE BASE, Fla., Feb. 1, 2006 Korean army Lt. Col. Hyunmo Lee did not fight in the Korean War. But the sacrifices U.S. troops made during that war are in the forefront of his mind as he works as a coalition partner in the global war on terror.
"The U.S. has shed their blood in order to support our freedoms," Lee said. "When I look back on our history, Korea has benefited a lot with U.S. help."
The Korean War began in June 1950 when North Korean troops invaded South Korea. Nearly 37,000 U.S. servicemen died in the 36 months of the conflict. In all, more than 54,000 Americans died as a result of the war.
"Koreans don't forget what the U.S. has done for us," Lee said. "In this same context, we have provided this sort of help to the U.S. in the aftermath of 9/11."
Lee is one of five Korean officers serving as part of a 63-nation coalition at U.S. Central Command, in Tampa, Fla. Korea deployed about 3,500 soldiers to Iraq, and more than 200 Koreans serve in Afghanistan. Most are engineers and medical personnel. The nation began deploying troops in 2002 and 2003, Lee said. Subsequent rotations have since occurred.
Some Korean soldiers have been wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan, but none have been killed.
Korea, the sixth-largest military power in the world according to the U.S. State Department, now maintains the third-largest foreign military force in Iraq, behind only the United States and Great Britain. Today the country's military ranks include more than 686,000 troops. Korea's deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan are its biggest troop mobilization since the Vietnam War, when more than 300,000 Koreans were deployed in a 12-year span, Korean officials said. Korea had the second-largest army in Vietnam.
Korean forces deployed to Irbil, in northern Iraq, and have been performing reconstruction and security operations in Kurdish areas. "What the (Korean) army has achieved is to stabilize the area," Lee said.
Korean officials said that the Korean "Zaytun" division and "Daiman" unit, whose names mean peace -- symbolizing olive and "always with you" when translated to Arabic -- were named to represent their peacekeeping mission in Iraq.
"The relationships are very good, very nice," Lee said about the Iraqi Kurd-Korean bond.
Since arriving in Iraq, Koreans have donated $3.5 million in computers to Iraqi universities. Similarly, they tried to energize Iraqi education by building and opening literacy schools, Korean officials said. The Zaytun division operated 85 classes in 18 schools with 2,200 students in 2004-05, Korean officials said.
Korean soldiers improved the region's wastewater and water-supply infrastructure and constructed deep wells, water tanks and supply facilities, officials said. Korean soldiers in Iraq also built large-scale water treatment plants and sewer systems.
Zaytun hospital, a Korean military field hospital, opened in November 2004 and has treated about 150 patients per day, Korean officials said.
"These doctors and nurses are very well-trained," Lee said of the roughly 50 medical personnel serving in Iraq. "In Afghanistan, we have done a lot more: 178,000 patients have been treated by medical services (there)."
Zaytun military hospital also operates mobile clinics for Iraqis. These clinics provide medical examinations and treatment for minor illnesses and injuries. They use donated medical supplies, equipment, medications and vaccines provided by Koreans, Korean officials said.
Korea also donated new communications equipment to establish command and control within Kurdistan for Iraqi security forces. Korean engineers helped build the Iraqi security forces headquarters and training facilities. They constructed living quarters and fortified checkpoints for the Iraqi forces, and they also built a police training center, gyms and rifle ranges, Korean officials said.
Korean engineers also are helping build airfields and "c-huts" -- four-sided quick-assembly buildings -- in Afghanistan, Lee said.
Lee, a graduate of the U.S. Army Infantry School at Fort Benning, Ga., said fighting in Iraq is similar to what happened in Korea in the 1950s. The difference this time is that Korean forces are able to help their international neighbors in responding to the war on terror.
Lee called working at the coalition headquarters here "kind of a United Nations."
"We have a lot of friends here," he said. "It's good to share our ideas and emotions and to know each other culturally."