A lifetime of opportunities and challenges in one year

  • Published
  • By Col. Jeff "Wolf" Lofgren
  • 8th Fighter Wing commander
As Airmen when we arrive in Republic of Korea for our remote tour away from family and friends we face many challenges that will force us to draw on our life long experiences. We have a choice though when we arrive. We can choose to set goals that will focus our time here and thereby better us for the rest of our lives or we can let temptations fill our time and ultimately change our lives forever. Each of us must choose the path we will take during our year here in Korea. Will it be the right path or the wrong path? 

  We all come to Korea for different reasons; some of us were just sent here, some of us volunteered to come. Regardless of the reason the opportunities in Korea are incredible. On a remote assignment you will have idle time. Now my question for you is what will you do with your time? 

  Will you experience the Korean culture and people, teach English, go to school, learn to mountain bike, start a workout routine, or gain work experience in this intense one year tour. Look at it this way, this assignment is a stepping stone to your next assignment; a way to get to where you want to go in life and career, whether that is in the military or private sector it does not matter. 

  Now what can derail your goals, dreams and aspirations? It is the temptation of alcohol which alters the way you think, distorts your values and may jeopardize all you have worked for over these years. An alcohol related incident, a sexual assault, a curfew violation will all prevent you from achieving your goals. Yes, you're in a foreign land, away from family and you miss them. You have an empty feeling inside and this is natural, it is human. So, how do you choose to deal with this feeling? 

  The best way is to focus on something you want to achieve or experience and share that with your family and friends back home. This is how to deal with these natural feelings in a healthy manner. What is not healthy is to turn to alcohol and try and drown your feelings away. This will dull those feelings for a short period of time but will not address them productively. Temporary solutions are just that, temporary. The healthy solution is to focus on and achieve a goal or experience that you have wanted for yourself. The human in you needs to grow, so give it a chance by doing something that rewards you and helps you reach your potential. 
  Many Airmen come to Korea not knowing what to expect. Without goals and aspirations in our lives there will be uncertainty and apprehension. This is where leadership at all levels can make a difference in every single Airman. Strong leaders at all levels can help those inbound to enhance their good experiences and avoid bad experiences, helping them mature in this unique environment. Leadership has a responsibility to help guide all who come to Korea down the correct path. Reinforcing and encouraging Airmen to immediately establish goals and begin right away in achieving them. Not letting Airmen wait several months to get started, because odds say, if they don't get started right away they never will get started. So, mentoring Airmen right away to get started in changing their life for the better will provide them with a positive outlet for their feelings. 

  The sad part, unfortunately, is some Airmen don't set goals and leadership doesn't get involved. For those Airmen, they fall into the trap of over indulging in alcohol to deal with being away from home. Some even think that because they are away from home (USA) they can over indulge and no one will care or that it is acceptable here. Of course both of these thoughts are false. Alcohol affects their judgment, alters their values and decision making that could lead to disastrous life changing events. But it doesn't have to be that way for you. If you set clear goals and seek out support from friends and leadership your tour here in Korea can define who you are for a lifetime. 

  Who is it that you want to be? What are your goals and objectives for this year? How are you going to achieve them? Don't know the answers to these questions, then talk to your supervisor, first sergeant, commander, chaplain or any of the many services that are provided to help you select the correct path. For example, if your goal is to get an education, there are caring, dedicated people in the education office who will help you in making that a reality. Getting that education you want will positively set you up for life. We all know that higher education opens more doors and enriches our lives forever. Military promotion or opportunities in the private sector are enhanced by getting a degree. For this reason, spend your time productively while in Korea by getting those courses completed. This time management will help guide your decisions about alcohol. If you need to study, then you know that you can not get intoxicated, but must socially drink tonight because you need to study to achieve the goal you set. Isn't that a powerful statement of your conviction to yourself? 

  If it is not education that is your goal, then you can step out and be an ambassador by participating in the many good neighbor programs offered here in Korea. There is nothing more satisfying than seeing the look on a child's face after they have learned a new English word that you taught them. Ultimately, this impresses upon the children a positive image of our culture. This rewarding experience will change your life forever. Over indulging in alcohol would not be what you would want to show that child, would you? They are counting on you to be there for them, to make the right choice, take the right path and honor yourself. 

  There are many opportunities here in Korea, but maybe your goal is much simpler. Maybe you just want to focus on being the best in your career field. If that is the case you came to the right place. Here in Korea the mission is so intense that you can gain invaluable experience in your job. Many say you can learn what you would learn in a two-year assignment in just this one year here because of the intensity of the training. To take advantage of this opportunity you will have to be on top of your game at all times. So, don't throw that away on one night of over indulging in alcohol where your ability to make the right decision was impaired. It could jeopardize everything you have worked for over the year or your entire career. 

  These are just a few examples of what opportunities await you here in Korea. Take advantage of them and make the right choice. And while you're at it I would ask your help in ensuring every Airmen coming to Korea makes the right choice. Support them as you would want to be supported. In addition, how about helping to change the culture at our warrior bases regarding alcohol consumption? The change is about our attitude toward alcohol, not about our attitude toward the mission. I know it is legal to drink alcohol, but what a professional does is drink responsibly because they understand the unintended consequences of over indulging. Remember few ever intend to get in trouble when drinking, but if you go too far your judgment and ability to ensure that doesn't happen fades away along with your ability to do the mission. So help me ensure our warriors, like you, are ready to fight. 

  I know what I've just discussed is a tall order, knowing that alcohol is overly abundant here in Korea. Unfortunately, that has created a culture here in Korea that almost encourages drinking. All too often it results in an alcohol related incident or a sexual assault. Tragic are these incidents, as they reflect on all of us in the military and destroy lives. But we must understand why Airmen over indulge. Many use it as an outlet or way to pass the time here in Korea. Some feel they can't have a good time unless they are drunk. Is that the way you want to pass your time, is that what you must do to have fun - doesn't speak much for you if that is what it takes to have fun, especially considering the incredible opportunities available in Korea. 

  Therefore, what are we going to do to help change this culture regarding the over indulgence of alcohol? Are you going to set goals and drink socially? Are you going to step up and tell a friend that they have had too much and that he needs to slow down or quit so they can achieve their goal? Better yet, help your friends drink responsibly by limiting their drinking - still have fun and retain your ability to think and make correct choices. 

  So I ask you, when a lifetime of opportunities presents itself to you, what will be the path you take?