By Amanda Kim Stairrett
Killeen Daily Herald
I remember Ji Bae from college.
We took a Korean class together at the University of Kansas. I saw him Sunday night after arriving at the 2nd Brigade Combat Team's home base at FOB Spirit.
It's been more than five years since we took that class together one semester, but I remember he wasn't there a whole lot. He mentioned classes, rather skipping classes, when we finally talked on Monday morning.
Bae's not quite sure why he joined the Army, but "I wasn't really doing much in college." His grades weren't great and he was messing around a lot, so rather than waste money, he decided to make some.
Bae is a staff sergeant now in the 308th Psychological Operations Company, a Missouri-based Reserve unit. He
lives in Shawnee, Kan., not too far from Lawrence, where we went to school.
When he's not a soldier, Bae is a sushi chef. He is 27 and deployed in 2004 to Iraq as part of a mental health unit. Bae eventually went back to school and graduated from KU with a degree in psychology.
My former classmate is at JRTC with nearly 20 others in his unit, most of them recently finishing advanced individual training for psychological operations.
This is Bae's first time as a psychological operations noncommissioned officer in charge and he likes it better than his last
job. He prefers to get out of the office and interact with people.
He recently applied to the police department in Kansas City, Kan. Bae was born in South Korea and none of his family has served in the Army. They have been supportive, though his dad didn't want him to enlist.
But Bae is stubborn, he said, and if he wants to do something, he does it.
He re-enlisted in July. "I still like doing it," he said. "Why not?" Bae said he's definitely matured since he was the college student I vaguely remember trudging into class every day.
Bae met Ted Lee Cha at KU while playing basketball at the gym. Cha is from Wichita, Kan., which is south of Lawrence and Shawnee. Cha is a captain in the 4th Squadron, 9th Cavalry Regiment and its signal and information operations officer.
He's also its designated public affairs officer, which means he gets saddled with me.
Someone from the squadron, where I'll spend a majority of my embed, was supposed to pick me up from the brigade Monday morning. Travel, unless it was part of the force-on-force operations, was being banned at noon on Monday and one of the brigade's public affairs sergeants was afraid I wouldn't get to the squadron in time.
Bae offered to take us to the squadron at FOB Forge. It's good to know have connections. He delivered me to Cha, who graduated from KU in December 2004 with a degree in communications studies.
He attended the New Mexico Military Institute for two years and completed the early commissioning program before transferring to KU. Cha's older sister is in the Reserves and is a physicians assistant.
"After jumping out of airplanes and helicopters at Ranger School, my sister still beats me," he said when I asked him who was the tougher soldier. Cha has always wanted to be in the Army.
He served as an infantry officer as part of a three-year detail before moving to signal. He wanted to go to Ranger School, what he called the "toughest school in the Army," because he wanted to lead from the front lines.
"Soldiers deserve a good leader and Ranger School definitely prepares you to be a good leader," he said.
He arrived at Fort Hood in August, his first duty station as a signal officer, and left for JRTC a month later.
It's been several years since I graduated from KU with a degree in journalism. I don't yearn for my college days and I rarely make it back to Lawrence.
But I sure do seem to miss that part of my life sometimes.
Maybe it's during a March Madness domination or a surprising bowl victory. Maybe it's while talking to old friends and recalling shenanigans we got into when the real world seemed very, very far away.
Maybe it's while walking along a dirt street on a fake FOB somewhere in Louisiana with two other Jayhawks.
Regardless, it's nice to say "Rock Chalk" to someone and not get a confused look in return.
I'm gonna say it, and my fellow Kansans will be annoyed with the overused movie reference, but sometimes there really is
no place like home.
Contact Amanda Kim Stairrett at email@example.com or (254) 501-7547.