Life lessons from a team member and Vietnam Veteran at DLA Distribution Korea

By Lt. Col. Mark Wolf, USA DLA Distribution

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By his calm and respectful demeanor, Chae Pong Yu seems no different from many of his colleagues at Defense Logistics Agency Distribution Korea.  Indeed, his full head of dark hair and toned skin suggest a man much younger than his life experiences.  Yu’s work ethic and energy level reinforces the notion that he is a much younger man.  But looks often deceive, and quiet professionals do not announce their many accomplishments.  Yu is in fact a proud veteran of the Vietnam War and has served United States Forces Korea for over four decades, including the last 10 years here at DLA Distribution Korea. 

A material handler by trade, Yu epitomizes competence and professionalism.  He serves as a teacher and coach to many of his younger colleagues on issues of work, home and living a balanced and successful life.  Only recently have I come to recognize how Vietnam shaped him, strengthened his character, and contributed to the man he is today.

Drafted into the Republic of Korea Army in 1968, Yu spent three years as a military intelligence analyst.  He deployed to Vietnam in May 1970 and returned home wearing sergeants’ stripes in June 1971.  He served primarily in the famed “White Horse” Division, which was subsequently reflagged as the ROK Army 9th Infantry Division.  Yu remembers the sound and feel of enemy artillery shelling the base.  “The first time that bombs dropped near my barracks, I was very afraid that I would die there, and never go home.  Over time I got numb to it all, and after a while I just didn’t fear it anymore,” said Yu.

Repatriation ceremonies were emotional events, “During those ceremonies we witnessed many flag draped coffins being loaded onto aircraft to be flown home.  That’s when I felt the worst, that I was alive and relatively safe, and those soldiers killed in combat were already dead,” recalled Yu.  

Since returning home in 1971, Yu has worked for United States Forces Korea as a material handler, first for the Material Support Center-Korea, and then for DLA Distribution Korea since 2005.  Over the past four decades, he has often reflected on his experience as a noncommissioned officer in war.  Indeed, much of his principled approach to work and life was forged during those 13 months in Vietnam.  Of all his virtues, gratefulness and discipline are the two most important to him.

The war had brought tremendous loss, misery and economic hardship to Vietnam.  Witnessing those hardships gave Yu a different, more mature perspective.   He returned from Vietnam with a newfound appreciation for his homeland.  Though life has not always been easy, Yu has a deep and abiding appreciation for USFK, the security the U.S. has ensured for South Korea and the freedom and economic opportunities its citizens have enjoyed for multiple generations. 

Additionally, Yu considers discipline as the key to his success as both an NCO in Vietnam and as a leader at DLA Distribution Korea.  It is this discipline and relentless focus on doing things right which I notice most about him.  During a recent Audit Readiness mock audit, I noticed his deliberate and thorough manner.  Seemingly small things, like lining up shipping labels perfectly on outbound shipments illustrate Yu’s attention to detail and caring about doing things in the most professional manner.  As the DLA Distribution Korea commander, I see Yu as a senior NCO who embodies competence and instills professionalism in those around him.