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Emerging from the water

Student Ryu uses military experience in chasing dream of becoming a chaplain

Sports Editor

Published: Sunday, February 16, 2014

Updated: Sunday, February 16, 2014 20:02


Kelsang Rmetchuk, The Spectrum

Jiwoo Ryu went through the rigorous ROTC program at UB because he wants to be a military chaplain. The senior psychology major wanted to use the experience to help him better understand what soldiers go through so, in turn, he can better serve their needs when he’s a chaplain.

The first thing Jiwoo Ryu, a senior psychology major, noticed upon entering the U.S. Army dive school’s base in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., was a golden bell. Just the thought of ringing that bell was one of the “most embarrassing things” Ryu could imagine.

Ringing that bell meant quitting the program. 

A few days after he arrived at the base, his fear of the bell had vanished. Ryu was ready to get up, walk out of the pool, ring the bell and go home.

The only thing stopping him was physical exhaustion.

Ryu is a member of UB’s Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC).He was one of only 70 cadets in the country to be selected for the Combat Diver Qualification Course (CDQC) in Florida. Ryu was one of only 26 ROTC members selected for a preliminary CDQC test. Fifteen of the 26, including Ryu, advanced. In the end, he was one of the 37 out of the 70 who passed the hardest test the Army has to offer.

But Ryu doesn’t want to be in the U.S. Special Forces like most of the others who participated in the rigorous CDQC program. He wants to be a military chaplain.

Becoming a part of the ROTC family

Ryu was at a crossroad in his life during his sophomore year. He began to lose the one thing closest to him – his faith. His father was a minister, but in Buffalo, Ryu felt lost.

That’s when he found UB’s ROTC.

The opportunity of earning a scholarship enticed him, but he also believed it offered the structure he needed in college. He had played sports his entire life and enjoyed physical challenges. Through ROTC, he was also able to restore his religious faith.

He first heard about the diving course in his junior year through his sergeant, William Hights. Ryu was never a member of the swim team in high school. His only previous experiences in water were childhood swimming lessons.

But when Hights told him it was the toughest school the Army offered, the challenge intriguied Ryu.

“I’ve served in the active-duty Army for 19 years now, and I’m continuously surprised and impressed by Cadet Ryu’s leadership attributes,” Hights said. “I’ve served with seasoned lieutenants that do not meet his level of excellence.”

Ryu wanted to use the experience as something to help him better understand what the soldiers are actually going through so he can better serve their needs when he’s a chaplain.

“A lot of problems the chaplains are facing in terms of dealing with the soldiers is that they don’t have that kind of experience that soldiers go through,” Ryu said. “Obviously if you don’t have that, you can’t relate to the soldiers as well because your life was different.”

Ryu also said chaplains who come from a local church don’t have “much of a connection” with those serving.

This test was his opportunity to make that connection.

No one from Ryu’s second brigade had ever been accepted into CDQC. That didn’t faze him. He began training for the test even before his acceptance.

The training in preparation for CDQC was hard on Ryu, especially because he didn’t know exactly what the test would consist of.

So, Ryu jumped in the pool at UB and swam.

Ryu was swimming up to 3,000 meters (1.86 miles) per day at UB, along with underwater sprints and treading exercises. Outside of the pool, he was doing his normal ROTC workouts with the rest of UB’s ROTC members, as well as extra running and weight exercises on his own. He wanted to be in the best shape possible for the test.

The training begins

When Ryu arrived in Key West, Fla., he took pictures of nearly everything he saw. He wanted to document his trip to remember it for the rest of his life.

The day started with a 4:30 a.m. wake-up call and morning physical training from 5 a.m. to 6:30 a.m. The cadets had breakfast from 6:30 a.m. to 7 a.m., followed by an hour of instruction detailing what the test entailed. They were in the pool from 8 a.m. to noon. The last hour was the “stress event,” which Ryu said “stressed the f*** out of us.”

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