Spc. John Owen provides overwatch security at window.

Photo by Capt. Jayme Aksterowicz, 196th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment

Spc. John Owen, a chaplain’s assistant with the 37th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, provides overwatch security during an exercise June 13, 2021, at the Joint Readiness Training Center in Fort Polk, La. Owen was born in South Korea and raised in an orphanage until he was 7, when he was adopted and eventually came to America.

Living the American Dream:

Military has provided family, friends, career for South Korean immigrant

Story by Spc. Grace Jacobs, 196th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment

FORT POLK, La. (08/10/2021)

Ohio Army National Guard Spc. John Owen, a chaplain’s assistant with the 37th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, was born in South Korea. He was raised in an orphanage in the city of Hwaseong until he was 7, when he was adopted by an American family. His soon-to-be father spent the next two years in South Korea to ensure his final adoption papers would be complete, and, on Owen’s 9th birthday, he finally arrived in America.

His adopted father served on active duty in the U.S. military, retiring as a lieutenant colonel, so Owen became familiar with the military lifestyle at an early age. The family moved several times until finally landing in Ohio.

“My dad worked as the contractor for the canine dogs in the Pentagon, and we spent a decent amount of time there,” Owen said. “Then, after that we moved to Ohio, as he wanted to become a (Junior Reserve Officers’ Training Corps) instructor. I have always loved the military. I grew up in the military, and that’s why I really came to America was due to my military parents.”

Growing up in a military home helped motivate Owen to serve. After talking with a recruiter who came to his high school, he made the decision to join the National Guard, knowing it best fit his ambitions to continue his education. He enlisted in his junior year of high school and participated in the Recruit Sustainment Program, or RSP, until he left for basic training and then was trained to be a religious affairs specialist. After only a short time, he was offered a full-time position with the Ohio Army National Guard, leaving his civilian job and moving with only seven days’ notice to begin his new occupation.

Owen recently spent about a month training with the 37th IBCT during a rotation at the Joint Readiness Training Center (JRTC) at Fort Polk, La. The rotation at JRTC was an exercise designed to conduct challenging, realistic, multi-echelon training within a live competitive environment, in order to improve brigade combat team and battalion leader functions and staff processes.

As a religious affairs specialist, Owen is tasked with jobs and situations that sometimes exceed the routine requirements of his current rank. He says the guidance of many strong leaders in his chains of command and support help him accomplish his duties.

“Because of this job, the Ohio Army National Guard has given me so many opportunities. I actually just finished working with the Serbian chaplains and religious affairs specialists (the Ohio National Guard has been paired with Serbia through the State Partnership Program since 2006),” Owen said. “The Ohio Army National Guard definitely has pushed my limits. Coming here (to JRTC) … has pushed every limit I thought I had. The Ohio National Guard has definitely pushed me in every direction.”

As a religious affairs specialist, Owen is tasked with jobs and situations that sometimes exceed the routine requirements of his current rank. He says the guidance of many strong leaders in his chains of command and support help him accomplish his duties.

“JRTC is a harsh environment. Spc. Owen has adapted and overcome, just as he has life,” said Chaplain (Maj.) Wayne Benner. “Spc. Owen is a team player and has kept the unit ministry team going… he is extremely dependable and is definitely a soldier of God.”

Although Spc. Owen has faced challenges and hardships, he said he has managed to exhibit resilience and strength, and has earned respect from his peers and leaders alike. Through his strong bonds with the military he has found family, friends and a career.

“I think understanding from the lowest to the highest is the biggest key for my success. It is what I want to pass down to other Soldiers around me,” he said. “I’ve known how it feels to be at the lowest point and I know how it feels to be at a good point, but I’m living the American dream.”