Photo Courtesy of Gwen Hudak
The line outside the commissary stretches on for what seems like forever. As a handful of people exits the store, the soldier manning the entrance ushers in the next batch. The row of shopping carts lining the street inches forward ever so slightly. No one looks like they're having fun.
Enter the dinosaurs. A triceratops, T-rex and velociraptor casually strut down the sidewalk past the line of shoppers. Heads turn. Phones are whipped out. Smiles light up on faces. What was once a long, boring, miserable wait to get into the Commissary has turned into the highlight of many people's days.
Beginning in late March, residents of Camp Humphreys, South Korea experienced a drastic lifestyle change when COVID-19 came onto the installation. Businesses began to close, and restrictions were placed on the number of people allowed into essential places such as the Commissary and PX.
Joseph, Michael, and Sophia Hudak have no need for masks or social distancing tactics when they go out: they're perfectly protected from the virus by their life-sized inflatable dinosaur suits. Not only are they staying safe, but they're also brightening their neighbors' days with a simple, goofy act of spontaneity.
"It was just a passing idea that arose when we saw the long lines at the Commissary," said the siblings. "We thought it would be fun and would make people happy."
What began as a nice gesture toward the people at the Commissary that day in March quickly became much more. Pictures and stories of their escapades spread on Facebook, and pretty soon almost the whole community had heard of the dinosaurs romping around Camp Humphreys. The siblings have now appeared multiple times at the Commissary and PX area, and have even stopped by the hospital for a few brief visits.
According to them, "We’ve had some really fun experiences with the folks at the commissary and the hospital, but the best part really is seeing the joy it brings to people - when they laugh or say it’s made their day is what really makes what we’re doing worth it."
The dinosaur characters match the personalities of each Hudak child. "They are a projection of ourselves as a character, just like how Captain Jack Sparrow is a hyper characterization of Johnny Depp, these dinosaurs are to us." 17 year old Joseph, the triceratops, enjoys music, video games, soccer, and English at school. Michael, at 15, wrestles (much like his T-Rex character) and plays football for Humphreys High, while also enjoying music, video games, and science. The youngest, Sophia, is the velociraptor, and at 14 years old enjoys writing, art, music, and studying the Korean language.
These three teens aren't just any kids, they've been born and raised the Army way. The Hudaks have been stationed in New York/Jersey, Hawaii, Kansas, Germany, Texas, and are now in Korea (Hawaii was their favorite). "Our experiences as military brats definitely fueled our decision to do this and to try to give back a little to the community, knowing how much our soldiers and their families give for us and our nation," explained the teenagers. "The communities we’ve grown up in have also had a great effect on us as a whole, shaping us to be more accepting to new people and more sociable - more outgoing and willing to do these shenanigans."
Aside from bringing life to the inflatable dinosaurs, the siblings have also been keeping busy with other activities during this "homeschool" period. While devoting many hours to schoolwork, they've each taken up different hobbies and activities. Michael’s taken up guitar, Sophia’s given more time to drawing, and Joseph’s been busy with paracord crafts. "We’ve also of course had games and the internet to keep us entertained too," they said.
In uncertain times such as these, it's easy for people to live their lives in fear and discomfort. Often, we don't recognize the power of a single act of absurdity to brighten up someone's day. In the case of the Hudaks, donning dinosaur suits for anxious Commissary customers brought smiles and joy to those around them, proving that the bonds that hold a community together are stronger than any virus.
Do you know a military teen who is doing great things in their community? Write to us at email@example.com so we can share their story!