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Five Korean-American Female Soldiers at TJAGLCS

 

Profiles in Paths to Service

 
 
   
   
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From left to right: MAJ Pearl Sandys, LTC Hana Rollins, COL Susan McConnell, MAJ Sara Tracy, and SSG Dana Song. (Credit: Jason Wilkerson/TJAGLCS)

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While virtually all men, women, and children living in the United States have ancestors who immigrated here, an unusual coincidence has brought five American women with Korean ancestry to The Judge Advocate General’s Legal Center and School (TJAGLCS). Twenty-five percent of active component judge advocate strength is composed of women, while female paralegal specialists constitute about thirty-five percent of active component military occupational specialty (MOS) 27D. Given that Soldiers come from a multitude of racial and ethnic backgrounds, numbers alone make it highly unlikely that TJAGLCS would have five women assigned here with connections to the Land of the Morning Calm.1 In alphabetical order, the five individuals are: Colonel (COL) Susan K. McConnell; Lieutenant Colonel (LTC) Hana A. Rollins; Major (MAJ) Pearl K. Sandys; Staff Sergeant (SSG) Dana M. Song; and MAJ Sara M. Tracy.

COL Susan K. McConnell

Born to South Korean immigrants in New York, COL McConnell grew up hearing her father tell entertaining stories about being a Korean Augmentation to the United States Army (KATUSA) in the South Korean Army.2 As the daughter of naturalized American citizens who gave their children every opportunity to succeed, it’s no surprise that this immensely patriotic woman wanted a career in public service. It was not until her last year in law school, after she signed up for an interview with the field screening officer, that she had any inkling to join the military. Colonel McConnell was directly commissioned as a judge advocate in 2000 and has served in a variety of assignments. Today, COL McConnell is the Chair of the National Security Law Department at TJAGLCS.

LTC Hana A. Rollins3

The path taken to the JAG Corps by LTC Hana A. Rollins was different from that of COL McConnell. Born and raised in the small village of Tteukori, Korea, she attended Korean schools until her mother married her American step-father and the family moved to the United States. Lieutenant Colonel Rollins was twelve years old and struggled to learn and adapt to a new culture, cuisine, language, and friends.

“My road to the U.S. Army,” writes LTC Rollins, “began long before I became a citizen.” As a small child, she witnessed American Soldiers on military exercises and appreciated what these men “were doing for a small country like Korea.” Rollins remembered “these Soldiers with their faces painted, covered in sweat and dirt” and, as her adoptive father was an infantry officer, this “planted a seed” in her to serve. Lieutenant Colonel Rollins joined the Corps after the 11 September 2001 attacks. She “wanted, in a small way, to do [her] part [to] repay a country that [had] given [her] many opportunities.” Rollins is now the Vice Chair of the Criminal Law Department at TJAGLCS.

MAJ Pearl Sandys4

Major Pearl Sandys, like COL McConnell, was born on American soil (Wisconsin) to Korean parents. Major Sandys’s parents met at the University of Wisconsin while her mother was earning her graduate degree and her father was a doctoral research fellow. Major Sandys’s family name is “Kim,” and her parents gave her “Jinjoo” as a middle name, which translated into English means “Pearl.”

Because her parents moved the family back and forth between two countries, MAJ Sandys spent some of her pre-high school years in Korea. She met American veterans of the Korean War and “always wondered why they sacrificed their youth to fight for democracy in a country [Korea] they had no connection to.” After being an exchange student in China during law school, MAJ Sandys developed a greater appreciation for the First Amendment and realized what a privilege it is to be a U.S. citizen. She joined the Corps because “wearing the uniform is a way of showing gratitude to Korean War veterans, and [she] certainly would not be where [she is] if it was not for them.” Today, MAJ Sandys is the Editor-in-Chief of the Military Law Review and is an assistant professor in the Administrative and Civil Law Department at TJAGLCS.

SSG Dana K. Song

Born and raised in Bronx, New York, SSG Dana K. Song lived in the United States until she was ten years old, when her father moved the family back to South Korea for a new job. Staff Sergeant Song’s parents placed her in a Korean school so that she would learn the culture and the language, and she completed third through eighth grades in Korea. Her family moved back to the United States after SSG Song completed middle school to prepare her for college and a future in America.

After graduating from the University of California-Davis in 2010, SSG Song enlisted as a paralegal specialist MOS 27D. Originally, she joined the Army because her two brothers were going to join and she wanted to be a “part of them.” Her grandfather encouraged her to enlist because he believed that this would be the best way for her to learn how to be a leader. Today, SSG Song is a small group leader in the Noncommissioned Officer Academy at TJAGLCS.

MAJ Sara M. Tracy5

Born in Okinawa, where her Air Force father was stationed at the time, MAJ Sara M. Tracy joined the military for two reasons. First, her father was a pilot who flew search and rescue missions, so she grew up valuing military service. Second, MAJ Tracy recognized the good that the U.S. military has done for the South Korean people and that “her Korean roots played a large role in her desire to serve.” Her grandmother and her family were forced to flee their homes when the North Koreans invaded in June 1950, and her grandmother told stories of surviving on discarded food rations left behind by American Soldiers in Korean rice paddies. These, and other stories of suffering, made MAJ Tracy appreciate the importance of the American military in the lives of Koreans and those of Korean ancestry.

After graduating from the U.S. Military Academy in 2005, MAJ Tracy attended law school on the Funded Legal Education Program before leaving the Signal Corps for the JAG Corps. She serves “for the people, the camaraderie, and for the greater sense of purpose that the Army gives [her].” Today, MAJ Tracy is the Vice Chair in the Contract and Fiscal Law Department at TJAGLCS.

The Five Korean-American Soldiers of TJAGLCS

Why is the presence of these five Korean-American women in Charlottesville significant? First, it shows that the Corps is an increasingly diverse entity. Second, the brief biographical sketches of each individual illustrate that—despite having Korean ancestry in common—their lives as Americans were different. Finally, with ranks ranging from staff sergeant to major to lieutenant colonel to colonel, all five have made their own paths to where they are in the Corps. TAL

 


Mr. Borch is the Regimental Historian, Archivist, and Professor of Legal History at The Judge Advocate General’s Legal Center and School, Charlottesville, Virginia.



Notes

1. While there are several explanations, the most likely is that Korea is known as the “Land of the Morning Calm” because of the Choson dynasty that ruled the Korean peninsula in the fifteenth century. See Percival Lowell, Choson; A Land of the Morning Calm, A Sketch of Korea 6-7 (Ticknor & Co. 1886), http://raskb.com/udenlibrary/disk1/53.pdf. The word “Chosun” translates to the “land of morning calm.” Id.

2. Eighth Army Pacific Visitors, KATUSA Soldier Program, 8th Army, https://8tharmy.korea.army.mil/site/about/katusa-soldier-program.asp (last visited Apr. 17, 2020). The Korean Augmentation of the United States Army (KATUSA) was an emergency program created by the U.S. Far Eastern Command to overcome manpower shortages early in the Korean War. Id. Initially, between 30,000 and 40,000 Republic of Korea (ROK) recruits were incorporated into the 24th and 25th Infantry Divisions and the 1st Cavalry Division in Korea and the 7th Infantry Division in Japan. Id. The ROK government paid and administered the KATUSA recruits, but they received U.S. rations and equipment. Id. By the end of the Korean War, almost 24,000 KATUSA soldiers were serving with U.S. units. Id. When Colonel McConnell’s father was a resident in Korea, he was a KATUSA soldier. Today, the KATUSA is a branch of the ROK Army and consists of drafted Korean citizens who are augmented to the Eighth U.S. Army. Id.

3. E-mail from Lieutenant Colonel Hana Rollins to author (Feb. 4, 2020) (on file with author).

4. E-mail from Major Pearl Sandys to author (Jan. 30, 2020) (on file with author).

5. E-mail from Major Sara Tracy to author (Apr. 17, 2020) (on file with author).