CAMP HUMPHREYS, South Korea -- For the 37th consecutive year, Korean Augmentation to the U.S. Army (KATUSA) and U.S. Army Soldiers came together to participate in friendship week activities, April 29 through May 3.
Friendship week was first observed in 1977, in an effort to boost morale and strengthen the mutual relationship between U.S. and KATUSA Soldiers by conducting various friendship events and cultural exchanges between both nations.
This event seeks to foster an environment of comradery and continue to strengthen the relationship through the participation of various sports events together including Korean-style wrestling, arm wrestling, basketball, soccer, softball and volleyball.
"The KATUSA program shows that the alliance strength lies in the relationships that we have built for the past 69 years," said Lt. Gen. Michael A. Bills, 8th Army commanding general, during the opening ceremony at Soldier Field. "The trust and confidence that comes from working together as partners has brought our societies and cultures together."
Bills encouraged U.S. Soldiers and KATUSAs to build on the alliance relationship, make it stronger and have fun.
In addition to Bills, the Republic of Korea-Army support group commander, Col. Jong Sik Ha; Command Sgt. Maj. In Hyun-shin, Command Sgt. Maj. Hae Sung-kim, and a representative from the KATUSA Veterans Association delivered opening remarks followed by performances from the ROK-A Taekwondo team and the Korea Department of Defense Honor Guard.
The KATUSA Soldier program was initiated in July 1950, by an informal agreement between Sung-man Rhee, then-President of the Republic of Korea, and Gen. Douglas McArthur, commander in chief, United Nations Command.
The original concept of this program was to augment the U.S. fighting forces just after the outbreak of the Korean War. After the armistice, KATUSA Soldiers remained with Eighth Army units, to receive training that was not readily available in the Republic of Korea Army and to enhance Eighth Army's mission capability.
This program has continued since 1950 with only periodic strength adjustments dictated by situational requirements. Originally, KATUSA Soldiers were returned to the ROK Army after serving with U.S. Army units. However, since 1968, KATUSA Soldiers remain with the U.S. Army until their service commitments are completed.
Sgt. Jaylen Webster, a supply technician for Headquarters and Headquarters Company, is on his second tour in Korea and participated in softball and soccer during KFW, this year.
"This is the time of year when the morale of Soldiers and KATUSAs is at an all-time high," he said. "We get a chance to get away from our normal work schedules and get to laugh and enjoy sports together. We build friendships that last. I met my best friend here in 2016.
"The outcome of this event is priceless," he said. "KFW gives us a chance to build our friendships even stronger and show how athletic we are and to see how talented KATUSAs are."
Pvt. Ohy Un-kweon, a KATUSA assigned to the Directorate of Plans, Training, Mobilization and Security, competed in Korean Wrestling and won a match.
"It was a great experience," he said. "U.S. Soldiers and KATUSAs were able to compete as one team. This was my first time participating and I enjoyed it. Some KATUSAs may be so busy with their job that they don't get an opportunity to meet a lot of U.S. Soldiers, but this event gave us that opportunity."
At the May 3 closing ceremony, the unit winners for each event were announced. They were: Headquarters and Headquarters Battalion, 8th Army (Basketball, Arm Wrestling); 65th Medical Brigade (Volleyball, Tug-of-War); 2nd Combat Aviation Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division (Soccer); 3rd Armored Brigade, 1st Armored Division (2nd Infantry Division) (Softball, Korean Wrestling).
The overall first place winner for the week was the 2nd Combat Aviation Brigade.