The 2nd Infantry Division has been filling South Korean homes with coal this holiday season — about 8,600 pieces of the black stuff.
On Thursday, soldiers from the 1st Battalion, 38th Field Artillery Regiment out of Camp Casey, just south of the border with North Korea, added 1,000 more to the tally.
And it’s not just any old coal. Joined by the South Korean Red Cross, the soldiers are bringing specialized home-heating charcoal briquettes known as yeontans to some of the poorest residents in neighborhoods near U.S. bases.
Braving freezing temperatures, 20 soldiers from the “Steel Behind the Rock” battalion spent the day delivering the briquettes by snaking “bucket brigades” through the older Korean housing of Yeoncheon, a town just outside the unit’s training range.
“They use about six a day to keep their homes warm,” said Spc. Patrick Boyce, 22, of Atlanta. He jokingly added that carrying the 8-pound blocks across town kept him plenty warm as well.
Since as recently as the late 1980s, these stocking stuffers have heated more than three-quarters of South Korean homes through a floor heating system called an ondol. But as South Korea grew richer, high-rises replaced traditional Korean dwellings and gas piping replaced the charcoal furnaces.
For the few left behind, the annual deliveries warm up the bitter Korean winter for local residents like Cho Won-sang, 50, who was thankful for the 1-38 troops and the 200 yeontans on his doorstep.
“These deliveries are very important,” Cho said. “Without them, without charcoal, I would freeze to death.”
Sgt. 1st Class Saturnino Cantu, 33, of Montgomery, Texas, said giving to the local community will provide him and his soldiers a good memory to look back on when they’re years removed from their Korean tour.
“You’re going to train anywhere you go,” said Cantu, who’s on his third tour manning rocket artillery along the heavily fortified border. “Training is training, but giving back is always something you’ll remember.”
© 2017 the Stars and Stripes
Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.