By Leanne Thomas
It’s been some time since Sgt. Ester White’s mom passed away. Since then, she credited her fellow soldiers with helping her get through the difficult time, who did so by letting her know she is an integral part of their team.
“If I was a civilian at the same timeframe my mom passed away, I would’ve acted out way differently than I would have now,” said Ester, an automated logistics specialist assigned to U.S. Army South. “As a civilian, I would have just not gone back to work at all. But with the military, while I was on leave people were texting me, ‘when are you coming back? We need help!’”
Ester was born in South Korea, where she spent most of her childhood. Oftentimes, she has been mistaken as Pacific Islander, but she was born to a Korean mom and a dad of Black and Native American descent.
“I grew up in an Asian household,” said Ester. “Even though my dad was American, he speaks Korean.”
In 2012, Ester joined the U.S. Army National Guard at Fort Indiantown Gap, Pennsylvania. In 2016, she began serving active duty and was stationed all around the world, including Fort Stewart, Georgia; Fort Carson, Colorado; U.S. Army Garrison Yongsan-Casey, South Korea and she completed a nine-month rotation in Europe.
“In Korea, all of my soldiers were straight out of [advanced individual training] and never left their barracks, so I found ways to get them out, and I was their tour guide,” said Ester. “It felt good to do something like that because it reminds me of my mom, who was like that. She was always happy and always helping people. So it makes my day when I know I’m able to help my soldiers.”
Ester’s goal is to eventually become a warrant officer or a first sergeant, and she explained that being in the Army has given her purpose and drive, and has taught her resiliency. She plans to serve every day carrying on her mother’s legacy and following in her footsteps.
“Even though my mom was really tiny, she has really big shoes to fill,” said Ester. “I feel like my mom was the perfect person, and people can’t be perfect. But, when everyone says the same thing about my mom and how she impacted so many people in her life, I want to do things for people the way she did.”
How the USO Supports Soldiers Stationed in South Korea
The USO has been serving service members stationed in the Indo-Pacific region since the beginning of 1941, before the United States even formally joined World War II after the attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. Following those events, the USO rapidly expanded its support throughout Hawaii, a crucial outpost for the U.S. military in the Pacific Theater. After the start of the Korean and Vietnam Wars, USO Centers and support expanded throughout Korea, Vietnam and Thailand, providing service members with a place of respite while away from the front lines.
Today, the USO continues to support soldiers like Ester stationed in these regions. For many Americans, the thought of service members being stationed in the Indo-Pacific region might not seem alarming, but 11 miles south of the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ), thousands of U.S. troops are stationed at U.S. Army Garrison Yongsan-Casey. Tensions are high for soldiers stationed in this area, where North Korea is at close range.
That is why the work that our USO Centers do on these bases overseas is so crucial. Service members stationed in environments such as these are often dealing with all different sorts of stressors, but having a USO center such as USO Camp Casey at U.S. Army Yongsan-Casey serve as a “home away from home” can aid in the morale and well-being of these troops.
USO Camp Casey, like other brick-and-mortar USO locations in the Indo-Pacific region, offers different ways of providing service members with a way to relax and unwind from their daily responsibilities. When walking into a USO center, service members can relax on comfy couches while enjoying the free snacks, video games, Wi-Fi and special events that aid in helping them forge connections with one another and stay connected to home.
The USO has continued to prove why this kind of support is important for over 80 years. No matter the crisis or conflict, the USO continues to support service members like Ester no matter where their military journey takes them.
-This story was originally published on army.mil. It has been edited and expanded for USO.org
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