FORT BELVOIR, Va. –
Army Lt. Col. Dennis Han is 43 years old today but will be 41 next month.
In South Korea children are born 1 year old, and everyone gets 1 year older on New Year’s Day – no matter their actual birthdate. But starting June 28, this widely used tradition dating back to 1896 will no longer be authorized for legal or official paperwork, making South Koreans instantly one or two years younger.
“Age matters in Korea and drives everything from the way you talk, act, eat, drink and so on,” Han said. “Respect for elders in Korean society is taken seriously; even someone 1 year older can be held in high regard because they are considered to have more experience in life.”
While his Korean age may be changing, Han’s appreciation for his culture and heritage won’t.
Han is a second generation Korean American whose mother and her family of nine were forced to move south from their home in Seoul during the height of the Korean War in 1950.
“Coming from immigrant parents, I’m thankful every day that I’ve benefited from their struggles to create a better life for my family in the U.S.,” Han said. “I can’t help but to feel that I’ve come full circle serving as a U.S. Army officer in the Republic of Korea.”
Han said the tales of his family’s struggles have helped shape who he is today – both as a father and as the Defense Logistics Agency Energy Korea commander.
“I remember growing up hearing firsthand accounts of the Korean War from my relatives, both as soldiers and noncombatant evacuees,” he said. “The stories and lessons have always stuck with me and give me great sense of pride and duty supporting the warfighter and the ROK-U.S. alliance.”
Stationed on Camp Walker in Daegu, South Korea, Han and a small team of Korean nationals and government civilians provide bulk petroleum supply, distribution and quality management for U.S. forces in South Korea.
Han, his wife, Ahreum, and their two daughters are grateful for the opportunity to soak up their culture.
“I’m fortunate to be currently stationed in South Korea, which allows me to share my heritage with my DLA teammates, friends, family and guests every day,” Han said. “We share the best Korean meals we can find, sightsee across the country, attend local festivals and observe national holidays, just to name a few.”
May is Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month. The annual celebration recognizes the historical and cultural contributions of individuals from the entire Asian continent, including the Pacific Islands of Melanesia, Micronesia and Polynesia. The national 2023 theme is "Advancing Leaders Through Opportunity."
“As the first ever Asian American commander for DLA Energy Korea, I fully acknowledge the opportunities given to me to lead this unique, joint logistics command,” Han said. “Being in my position also allows me to pay it forward to the next generation of leaders and create the same, if not more, opportunities for them to excel.”
Han said diversity should always be treated as a strength.
“Go out and get to know the people around you,” he said. “Spend time, have discussions, ask questions about their cultures, traditions and values. You’ll quickly find that everyone has something to offer and there are lot more commonalities than you think.”
While Han is a Korean American, he grew up predominately in Philadelphia and claims the “City of Brotherly Love” as home. He received his commission through the Penn State University Army Reserve Officers’ Training Corps program in 2003. He enjoys physical fitness activities, hiking, traveling and is an avid fan of the future champions Philadelphia Eagles/76ers.