GYERYONG, SOUTH KOREA –
Eighth Army Soldiers and equipment, and a lot of Republic of Korea service members and equipment, were on display at the 2015 Republic of Korea Ground Forces Festival at the ROK Military Headquarters Oct. 2-6.
Nearly 100 combat vehicles both air and ground along with South Korea's military history and current technology were on display, in near Smithsonian quality presentation, at the sprawling festival site held on an Army Airfield a short distance from the ROK military headquarters.
Mixed in with the Korean main battle tanks and a large number of different types of helicopters were several pieces of U.S. military equipment to include a Patriot Missile system, an Avenger Missile system, an NBC variant of a Stryker vehicle, an AH-64E Apache (Longbow) attack helicopter and even a few Explosive Ordinance Disposal (EOD) robots that spent majority of their time chasing around giggling children.
The whirl of helicopter blades and roar of jets were nearly constant as was the sound of gunfire at a small firing range where people could fire a real rifle, albeit with blanks, at a target with the Korean military version of laser based Multiple Integrated Laser Engagement System
Musical performances with military marching bands and traditional Korean groups were going on constantly in the main stadium and a number of small stages spread throughout the grounds.
All the U.S. equipment was manned by young Soldiers and Korean Augments to the U.S. Army or KATUSA's.
KATUSA's helped bridge the language barrier by being there, wearing the Korean flag on their shoulder, and providing a visible representation of the ROK/U.S. Alliance.
"I am so proud to be here representing my country and the United States," said Cpl. Mun, Hak-bong, 2nd Battalion, 1st Air Defense Artillery Regiment, who was manning a Patriot Missile System.
"Everyone asks me how it is to be a KATUSA and I always say it's great, especially on days like these!" Mun added.
The small American contingent of about 50 Soldiers, to include members of the Eighth Army Band, were kept busy providing information on U.S. military equipment and being "rock-stars," posing for photos with Korean civilians, many of whom had never met a U.S. Soldier
"This is a great way for us to get out and see the people of Korea, and for them to see us," said Chief Warrant Officer 2 Joseph Friend, an Apache pilot assigned to C Co. Fourth Aerial Reconnaissance Battalion (Attack), Second Aviation Regiment.
"Being a pilot and being able to talk about my experiences with our South Korean partners and allied nations and the other pilots and officers about the airframe has made this a phenomenal experience," Friend added.
ROK and U.S. Special Forces conducted several demonstrations to include a free-fall and "hostage rescue" parachuting and rappelling into the festival to the loud applause of the large crowd gathered to watch the spectacle.
"We've been drawing a big crowd and its been keeping us busy as we've been letting people play with the system, we've really been overwhelmed with the interest in us and our equipment, it's been great, I hope I can do this again next year!" said Staff Sgt. Andrew Reinheimer an Avenger operator assigned to 6th Battalion, 52nd Air Defense Artillery Regiment, 35th Air Defense Artillery Brigade, as he stood in front of his system.
If you were wearing a U.S. Army uniform you couldn't go anywhere without someone wanting to practice their English or have their picture taken with a U.S. Soldier.
"I've learned a lot about the ROK Army and it's differences between the U.S. Army, for example, the ranks are a lot different," said Pvt. 1st Class Sha'vona Ellis, A Battery, 2-1 ADA.
"Everyone wants to talk to us and take pictures with us, this has been a tremendous experience!" Ellis added.
It seems that the strong bond between the ROK and U.S. militaries also extends to the relationship between the Korean people and U.S. Soldiers.
Almost 1 million people attended the five-day event.