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NEWS | Jan. 24, 2024

US Army sergeant wins Gold Medal in Taekwondo competition in South Korea

By Walter Ham, 20th CBRNE Command

A U.S. Army sergeant won the Gold Medal during an international Taekwondo competition in South Korea.

Sgt. Robert J. Errington from the 59th Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear (CBRN) Company (Hazards Response) took first place during the international competition at the Kukkiwon, the World Taekwondo Headquarters in Seoul.

Errington also earned his Taekwondo black belt in six months during his deployment to South Korea, the birthplace of the famous martial art, which is also an Olympic sport.

In the 1950s - 1960s, many of the American martial arts pioneers earned black belts while stationed in the U.S. military in Northeast Asia.

Chuck Norris, a six-time world Professional Middleweight Karate Champion and action star, earned his first black belt in the Korean martial art Tang Soo Do while serving as a U.S. Air Force Air Policeman on Osan Air Base in South Korea in the late 1950s.

Errington, a Chemical Corps sergeant, first became interested in the martial arts during a family trip to Vietnam when he was 8 years old.

“During my stay there, I was able to watch monks from the Buddhist temple perform martial arts which piqued my interest in starting,” said Errington. “Coming to Korea, I wanted to embrace the culture as much as I could.”

Two company leaders, 1st Lt. Aidan J. Naylor and Sgt. 1st Class Sun-kyong Jung, who both used to practice Taekwondo, encouraged Errington to sign up for courses on Camp Casey, South Korea. The U.S. Army provides Kukkiwon-certified Taekwondo grandmasters for the courses. Yi Yong-son, a 7th degree black belt, is Errington’s grandmaster.

“Once I found out how easily Taekwondo was available, I signed up as soon as I could,” said Errington, a native of Buffalo, New York. “There are seven belt levels here starting from white ending all the way to black. From what I was told by my grandmaster, I was quick to promote and got my black belt in six months.”

Errington took all of the three classes offered on post every week. Since he had no prior martial arts experience, he practiced as much as possible.

For the 1st degree black belt test, Errington had to demonstrate the basics, perform four Taekwondo forms, complete 50 pushups and spar with a black belt at a higher level. He then had to break 3/4-inch-thick boards with a roundhouse tornado kick, spinning wheel kick and jumping reverse wheel kick.

During the competition in Seoul in September 2023, he had to overcome two opponents in his weight class to earn his Gold Medal.

“To prepare for this tournament, my grandmaster emphasized the importance of basic kicks and counter attacks. For him to let me even spar, I had to consistently spar against all the black belts for weeks until he became confident enough to let me fight,” said Errington. “My final match was intimidating at first because I was matched up against a 3rd degree black belt who practiced Taekwondo at a university club in South Korea. Even though he was a great practitioner, I was able to come off with a 12 to 6 win.”

The Fort Drum, New York-based 59th CBRN Company “Mountain Dragons” are deployed to South Korea in support of the 23rd CBRN Battalion, 2nd Infantry Division Sustainment Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division and Eighth Army.

The 59th CBRNE Company “Mountain Dragons” are serving in South Korea on a nine-month rotational deployment. The company is part of the 83rd CBRN Battalion, 48th Chemical Brigade and 20th Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear, Explosives (CBRNE) Command, the U.S. military’s premier CBRNE formation.

American Soldiers and U.S. Army civilians from the 20th CBRNE Command deploy from 19 bases in 16 states to take on the world’s most dangerous hazards in support of joint, interagency and allied operations.

Since it was activated in October 2004, the Aberdeen Proving Ground, Maryland-headquartered 20th CBRNE Command has been supporting the Republic of Korea-U.S. Alliance.

Errington said he has enjoyed his deployment to South Korea, beyond his success on the mat.

“Korea has so much to offer besides Taekwondo. When I’ve had free time, I’ve explored Korea as much as I could,” said Errington. “From the nature side of Soyosan Mountain, the popular city of Seoul and even to the beaches of Gangwon Province, every weekend was full of excitement and surprises. I have also made a couple good Korean friends here that I’m sure I’ll be keeping in contact in the States.”

Errington chose to serve in the U.S. Army Chemical Corps to protect people from the hazards posed by Weapons of Mass Destruction.

“We protect people from substances that the average person doesn’t even know about,” said Errington. “At some point in my career, I would like to become a recruiter and show people what the Army can offer. After the Army, I would like to finish up my degree and become a professor in Chemistry, Earth Science and Astronomy.”

Capt. Evan P. Shortsleeve, the commander of the 59th CBRNE Company (Hazardous Response), said that Spc. Jacob Oliver from the Mountain Dragons will also test for his Taekwondo Black Belt soon. Shortsleeve said Errington sets a great example of the U.S. Army’s commitment to physical fitness and maintaining strong ties with our allies.

“Sgt. Errington represents our Army well,” said Shortsleeve, a native of Litchfield, Connecticut, and graduate of Norwich University. “He approaches each day with gratitude and leads those around him to live a fuller life. Soldiers and KATUSAs (Korean Augmentees to the U.S. Army) following his example have found a deeper meaning behind holistic health and fitness and forged friendships that will outlast their service with the Mountain Dragon family."

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