Fourteen years after his first assignment in South Korea, Sgt. 1st Class Ronnie Russell returned to the peninsula for a second tour to find there was still no convenient way to figure out the bus schedule or an easy way to get around.
"I know what it's like to feel lost, and feeling lost in Korea is not a good feeling," Russell said. "Not everyone speaks English, so getting where you want to go can be complicated."
Frustrated by the lack of easy, accessible information — soldiers were taking photos of the bus schedule so they could look it up on their phones later — Russell set out to build an app.
"I wanted to do something different," he said.
Russell started calling companies for help building the app, but after he didn't get anywhere, the platoon sergeant decided to take matters into his own hands.
"I got frustrated," he said. "So I went to Google University, and my professor was YouTube. That's who taught me how to create these apps."
After about four months of tinkering, Penn Around was born.
Sgt. 1st Class Ronnie Russell, platoon sergeant for the mortar platoon with Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 1st Battalion, 12th Cavalry Regiment, 3rd Armored Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division, scrolls down the social media feed of local law enforcement agencies in one of the mobile apps that he created, called Texas Corral. Russell has created apps for the purpose of giving Soldiers easy access to information.
Photo Credit: Army/Staff Sgt. Leah R. Kilpatrick
The free app, which has been out for about a year, has been downloaded and installed by almost 10,000 users, Russell said, and he has at least three more similar apps, for different parts of the world, pending final approval.
Penn Around contains the bus schedule; a list of U.S. Forces-Korea holidays; movie times for the on-post theater; sexual assault and suicide prevention assistance and resources; events scheduled by Morale, Welfare and Recreation as well as Better Opportunities for Single Soldiers; and Google Translate.
Soldiers also can use Penn Around, which is compatible with the iPhone and Android, to order food from the AAFES-run food court to be delivered to their barracks room.
It is only about 13.6 megabytes to download, and "once you open the app, you'll see a plethora of things to assist you as you travel around the pen," Russell said.
Sgt. 1st Class Ronnie Russell
Photo Credit: Army
Russell, a platoon sergeant with 1st Battalion, 12th Cavalry Regiment, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division, also has developed an app called Texas Corral. This app pulls together information from 10 police departments in central Texas, giving users up-to-date news, alerts and information. It also enables users to pay their tolls, fines or fees.
Russell, who is stationed at Fort Hood, Texas, has since worked on three other apps that are pending final approval before they're released: Mil Aloha, which was built for troops serving in Hawaii; Mil Euro for troops in Europe; and Mil Japan, for those serving in Japan.
"Once I understood the system with Penn Around and Texas Corral, it was easy for me to create an app," Russell said.
Russell, who has been in the Army for 21 years and has deployed twice to Iraq, said he hopes his apps can help those who come after him.
"I do this so no one else will have to feel what I felt, lost," he said. "What these military apps can do is assist soldiers and families … and give them, ultimately, the ability to feel more at ease since they're already away from home."