AN NASIRIYAH, Iraq -- They traveled thousands of miles to get here. They are the best 676 volunteers hand picked for the job. They are veterans of peacekeeping operations from Russia to the Western Sahara. Commonly known by the coalition forces as the "Rocks," they are the soldiers, sailors, and airmen of the Republic of Korea.
Originally they came to Iraq to support Coalition Forces in combat. Things changed quickly.
"Most of the fighting was over when we arrived, so we quickly changed from a combat role to a peacekeeping operation," said Col. Kwang-Yeun Choi, commander of the 1100th Engineering Support Group from Seoul, Korea.
To make this transition, much of the armored combat earth moving equipment had to be exchanged for more traditional construction equipment such as backhoes and dump trucks.
Choi said that by rebuilding schools and restoring local utilities Koreans were trying to "reconstruct Iraqi society in An Nasiriyah," said Choi. While doing this, Choi and his soldiers are also building relationships with the American military, civil authorities of An Nasiriyah, and local Iraqi families.
A striking example of the relationships being built by the Koreans is that of Col. Choi and the family of a 3-year old girl known as Hamir, who was brought to a medical clinic where the Korean medical team was providing aid.
Hamir's body was covered by a skin condition prevalent in this area of Iraq. Much of her skin was either peeling off or had given way to open wounds. Her mother told the Korean doctors that Hamir was in constant pain.
After treating the young girl and sending her for further care at the hospital, Hamir's relatives wanted to thank Col. Choi for his team's aid. To do so they invited the Korean to dinner at a relative's home.
"Following Korean customs, I was to bring a gift to the family," said Choi. "I knew the family only had an old couch, two old beds, and a very old refrigerator. So I bought the family a new refrigerator."
The much-needed gift was delivered to the surprised family as the colonel arrived for dinner. Expecting to thank a soldier for his unit's assistance, the unsuspecting family appeared overwhelmed by the new appliance. They documented the event by taking photos of the refrigerator as if to ensure other people who were not there would believe their story.
At the end of the visit and after bonding with the family, the commander of the "Seo-Hee Unit" returned the invitation by asking the family to join him for dinner at his camp. The following day the family arrived at the military base outside An Nasiriyah and was again surprised by the reception they received.
The soldiers of the 1100th greeted the visiting family with traditional Korean drum music followed by a demonstration of Tae Kwon Do presented by the Special Forces security detail.
Once inside the commander's tent, the family presented Choi with a letter the father had written for the president of Korea. In this, the father expressed his appreciation for the efforts of
Choi, the medical team of the 1100th Engineering Support Group, and the Republic of Korea.
Currently, Hamir's is receiving basic treatment at the municipal hospital in An Nasiriyah. Her family is requesting that Hamir be treated for her condition in the United States, or another country, where advanced treatments may be available.