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Thursday, December 17, 2015

TGBKA: It All Started on Day 3 in Korea...

It was bound to happen. In fact, I know of a group of friends who were throwing down bets on how long it would take before it would happen. And to be honest, I kind of feel like I deserve that pot of dough because I even shocked myself when I accepted a volunteer leadership position less than a week after arriving in Korea. Here's how it all went down:

Upon first entering Camp Casey, we were greeted with a bombardment of signage on post. Each one had lovely morsels of information about the goings on that would occur over the next couple of months. Not wanting to miss a single thing, I (slightly) annoyed Sweet Baboo as I took iPhone photographs of every sign that grabbed my attention. Then I hounded him for further information with every step deeper into the installation. I swear that at one point, he was about ready to do an about-face (turn around... for you non-military speaking folk out there) and send me back to the airport. But he did the best he could with what little energy he had for my unabating need to get involved with the local community. And then he introduced me to his immediate boss.

Within the first five minutes of the conversation, I had produced my enthusiasm, my starry-eyed love for adventure, and my photographs of every. single. banner. and asked how we could make this happen. Sweet Baboo's boss, we'll call him Mr. Amused, got equally excited and told me that I had his full backing on anything I wanted to sign up for in the name of the office. Sweet Baboo groaned.

It's not that Sweet Baboo minds, per se, that I get involved. It's that my need to be involved is so strong, my love of giving back to the community in which I live is so deep, my admiration of those who have a story to tell and are willing to take the time to tell it is so unwavering that I sometimes (read: every single time) get tunnel vision and forget that other things in life exist. Like eating. And sleeping. And, well... everything. Life's too short (if you ask me) to miss a single thing this world has to offer you, and I only get 2 years to experience this community. So I want to get started now.
These banners are the first thing you see when you walk on Camp Casey. And I was salivating when I saw the magazine they publish monthly!
The first thing on the agenda: Area 1 Christmas Tree Decoration Contest. Sweet Baboo and I had already discussed the electricity situation here, and I had packed enough Christmas lights to make Clark Griswold question my sanity. I didn't have a plan in mind just yet, but I wanted to figure out if Sweet Baboo's company had signed up, and if not could we do so? I asked Mr. Amused. He was disinterested until he read that the winner of the contest won $500 (goes to the unit funds) and Commander's Cup points (don't ask me... I don't pay much attention to those. But I do know that there are some Commanders out there who care.) Mr. Amused asked the CO of their company if we could sign up; a dope deal was made, and I was given the green light.

The next hurdle was to come up with a theme for the tree. I didn't bring any of our breakable ornaments from the States. I opted to have them go into storage. We usually have two trees: one "memory tree" with fragile ornaments that are chosen specifically based on the big things that happened that year, and one "medal tree" that holds all of the finisher's medals and winning medals from the entire family's athletic life. I left the "memory tree" behind, and only brought the medal tree and ornaments. And I didn't want to sacrifice our own tree at home in the name of setting up a tree at the post's club. So I decided to go with a theme. And this is what we came up with:
General Frosty T. Snowman complete with snowflake lights on, around, and under the tree. (That's a Christmas light present down there, too!)

I did my best to keep General Snowman from looking too creepy. I'll admit, his face haunts me. But check out his rank: he's a 1-Snowflake General!
Did you know that Koreans (at least the ones I spoke with... and I spoke with a lot) do not know what mesh ribbon is? I searched over two dozen stores between here and Seoul and could not find a single employee who knew what the heck I was trying to purchase. So we went with lace. It didn't form as well as I had hoped, but it is what it is.

As soon as the CO met me, I mean literally five minutes after meeting me, he asked me to be his FRG Leader. Sweet Baboo was nowhere to be found (he was at his office, working). I was wandering the Company HQ, trying to get my NEO packet completed (more on that later), and he asked me to fill the position. When I hesitated, he asked the girls to talk me into it. So after discussing it with Sweet Baboo over dinner that night, we decided that I should absolutely take the honor that his CO offered me.

And in taking that role on, I took the (unspoken) permission from Sweet Baboo to find half a dozen more projects to get involved in. I found out about these two cultural events because I was "in the know" now that I was an FRG Leader. And I had the full backing from the CO to get his company as involved as I wanted with the happenings on post. So I signed us up for four shifts of gift wrapping at the Camp Casey PX.
We take gift-wrapping quite seriously!
Wouldn't you want these awesome elves to wrap your Christmas presents?
This is a fundraiser for our FRG funds. In taking over, I was able to find out that the company didn't even have a bank account, let alone any funds for activities. So I needed to get us involved in earning some funds (until I make my way around post and ask the typical organizations to donate money to us).

I got on the battalion FRG Steering Committee. I found out about upcoming training exercises, official Korean holidays that would affect Sweet Baboo's schedule, and upcoming potlucks.
There aren't many families here, but the ones who are happen to have adorable children!
I joined the battalion Spring Ball Steering Committee, where I sit around with a bunch of higher ups (and a couple of awesome wives) and help to plan the spring ball! I'm super excited about this one!

I helped to decorate Sweet Baboo's office for their Christmas party. Again: way too many lights and an exponential electricity bill make for a poor Spunky Soul. So I shared the bounty.
This Christmas is brought to you by your Chain of Command. Keeping it festive!
But the best project I have signed the unit up for so far is the Unit Adopt an Orphan event. It has seriously touched my heart. Any interested unit can sign up to treat a local orphan to an American Christmas dinner, and a night of entertainment (on post). The unit is expected to purchase their orphan a gift, and pay for the orphan's dinner the night of the event. In an effort to "break the ice", there is a "meet and greet" at the orphanage the week before. The girls and I attended the meet and greet, along with a Soldier from the unit, and a KATUSA (Korean Soldier who is attached to a US unit). The KATUSA was our translator.
The group of volunteers who represented their units in the meet-and-greets!
We went to Noah Rehabilitation Center. This particular orphanage specializes in taking in children who are disabled in some way. They say the children are rarely ever adopted, and some children never leave (even when they grow to be adults). 

Meet Ae Jin! 
Ae Jin was very shy at first. I could tell that she wasn't quite comfortable with having five strangers sitting with her, asking her lots of questions. But after about ten minutes, (and one big hug from The Elder), she warmed up to us. Ae Jin is 20 years old, and we are told that she may never leave NRC. She loves to dance, and was even on the orphanage's competition team! They won Nationals last year, which is a very big deal for them.

I am very glad that our KATUSA came with us. He was able to find out which band she liked best so we could shop for her Christmas presents!
Ae Jin's only request for Christmas was a Korean comic book. I'm not sure of the name of the one she particularly wanted, but I took a photo of the cover:
She got very excited when she spoke of her love of reading this book. And it's a book. I had school books that were thinner than this thing! She has the first four books in the series, I'm hoping we raise enough money to get her the final six, though she has only asked for the 5th one.

Our time with her was short, but this visit was only supposed to be for us to break the ice. As we left, Ae Jin gave each of the girls several more hugs, and even gifted me with one! I was touched, and honored that she warmed up to us. She is a very sweet young lady, and I can only hope that she is as excited about Sunday as we are.

As we left, we snapped a few more photos of the orphanage, and headed back to the bus:
Dogs in the woods right next to the orphanage!
The girls and me with our KATUSA. He was a wonderful help!
This was really taken after we got off of the bus and headed to the orphanage. We basically had to hike a mountain to get there. Not really. But it was really steep.
So that's it so far! Today was our 1-month anniversary on Pen, and I'm not slowing down any. Though I guess I should stop long enough to finish my Christmas shopping. More importantly, I hope to have a million photos of the actual Christmas dinner with Ae Jin to share this weekend!

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