Jeffrey Miller

A Writer's Life

Tag: USFK

Waking Up in the Land of the Morning Calm — She’s Got the Beat

In the late summer of 2001, I was writing a series of articles about USFK (United States Forces Korea) organizations doing things in the Korean community. One of the articles I planned to write was about the Eighth Army Band that was giving a concert with some Korean bands in the middle of September.

Then 9-11 happened.

At the end of October, there was another concert, this one near the Amsa Prehistoric Settlement Site in southern Seoul and the Eighth Army Band played at it. Before the band played, the audience was entertained by traditional Korean dancers and drummers.

All that matters, isn’t gold

The Story Behind the Story

 

There have been a couple watershed years in Korea when a lot of crazy and intense shit was going down but for all the years that I have been in Korea, one year that stands out the most was 2002.

 

In Korea it was a year filled with drama, hope, and protest. And as an American living and working in Korea, it was one of those years that we carried a little more cultural baggage than usual.

 

The highlight of the year was without question that 2002 World Cup that was co-hosted by Japan and Korea. I was still writing a lot for the Korea Times and many of the stories that I did write were about the World Cup—including a series of interviews I had with the ambassadors of countries that had teams playing in Korea.

 

The World Cup was a festive and exciting time to be in Korea, especially when I had the chance to see the U.S. play Portugal in Suwon (south of Seoul). What made it all the more exciting for me was that a few months earlier I had met some of the players and their coach Bruce Arena when they toured Panmunjom (they had come to Korea to play a friendly match with Korea’s national team) and wrote a story about it for the Korea Times.

 

Inasmuch as the 2002 World Cup was another “coming out” party for Korea to show the world how much they had progressed since the 1988 Olympics as well as recover from the 1997 Asian Economic Crisis, things also turned a little sour, tragic, and eventually ugly by the end of the year.

 

When you are an expat living overseas—especially an American expat—you sometimes find yourself skating a little bit on thin ice when your country’s policies are not too well received in the country you are currently residing in. When I came overseas I left my politics at home. There’s no point in being an “ugly” American and calling attention to some policies that don’t travel well overseas. Sure, some people might want to know what you might have to say on a particular issue or policy, but as Shakespeare penned, “discretion is the better part of valor.”

 

There were two incidents at the beginning of 2002, which might not have seemed very much at first because they were not related in any way; however, the fallout from them would prove damaging enough that would ultimately lead to a surge of anti-American sentiment and nationalistic fervor.

 

The first one was when President George Bush came out with his “Axis of Evil” announcement that kind of raised a few eyebrows here especially with South Korean President Kim Dae-jung’s practical “Sunshine Policy” aimed at getting the reclusive and Stalinist North Korea to warm up a little. Sure the North and South are still technically at war, but that kind of rhetoric smacked of the kind of foolhardy foreign policy that would get the U.S. bogged down in Iraq and did not bode too well here.

 

This was followed by the Apolo Ohno incident at the Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City when Ohno defeated South Korean rival Kim dong-sun in the short track ice skating event after Kim had been disqualified for cross-tracking. Immediately there was public uproar in Korea that it was Ohno’s fault (he did a good job of acting which might have been enough to convince an Australian judge of the infraction and that the U.S. was just as much to blame because the Olympics were held in the States, that the U.S. is a superpower and so on and so on. Blah, blah, blah. The press had a field day with that story here and it also galvanized Internet savvy Netizens who took to the broadband to get the word out that Ohno stole the gold away from one of their countrymen.

 

It got a little ugly when the World Cup took place because the U.S. and South Korea were in the same bracket and would play each other (fortunately it was a tie). Interestingly, when South Korea scored their goal, some of the players mocked Ohno’s speed skating form at the end of the pitch. Of course, the joke was lost on the rest of the world but not South Korea.

 

What wasn’t lost and also not talked about too much were all the anti-American signs at the previous U.S.- Portugal match. “F**K America (written in Hangul) was one of the more popular signs. Also many Koreans in attendance booed America every time the team brought the ball down the field or attempted a shot.

 

(The same thing happened in the 1988 Olympics when the USSR played the US in basketball and the Americans could not understand why their ally’s fans were cheering the Soviet team).

 

Then, right in the middle of the World Cup tragedy struck on one of Korea’s country roads when two middle school students were accidentally struck and killed by a U.S. military vehicle while they were walking down the road. The large vehicle was unable to swerve or stop in time and the two girls were killed instantly. Immediately following this tragedy USFK (United States Forces Korea) issued an apology and gave some retribution (more would follow later) to the family. The story was not “news” in that most of the coverage was about the World Cup. Indeed, the story that appeared in the Korea Times was only a few lines and buried on page 3. However, the story indicated that it had been an accident and that USFK had issued an apology.

 

A week later, tragedy struck again—this time on the high seas, the East Sea to be exact when a North Korean naval vessel attacked a South Korean patrol boat killing eight ROK (Republic of Korea) sailors. The timing couldn’t have been worse—the World Cup semifinals. It was almost as though North Korea had deliberately planned to upstage the World Cup by attacking the South Korean patrol boat.

 

What happened next was both surreal and absurd. There was some public outcry over the naval battle, but not as much as the outcry over the deaths of the two middle school students. After much of the World Cup fervor had begun to dissipate and things got back to normal, that story was front-page news. People who paid no attention to the deaths of these two young girls back in June now demanded an apology and retribution as well as a revision of the SOFA (Status of Forces Agreement)—an agreement that defines the legal position of a visiting military force deployed in the territory of a friendly state with provisions for how the authorities of a visiting force may control members of that force and the amenability of the force or its members to the local law or to the authority of local officials.

 

By November and December this would escalate into a frenzy of anti-American sentiment, candlelight vigils (for the deaths of the two middle school girls), protests outside the U.S. Embassy in downtown Seoul, flag burnings, and even prompted some restaurant owners in Seoul to post signs forbidding American customers.

 

Looking back on 2002, I think Bush’s Axis of Evil reference in his State of the Union Address and Ohno’s acting skills at the Winter Olympics riled up people enough and ruffled just enough feathers for many people to become a little more vocal and later to take to the streets. Little did anyone know at the time that this would be the beginning of a different kind of a protest movement in Korea—one that started on the Internet and ended on the streets of Seoul. It was this kind of Internet grassroots movement—along with the candlelight vigils and street protests that played a key role in getting Roh Moo-hyun elected president in 2002.

 

I had a feeling something was up after these two events that inspired me to write this Op-Ed piece. Little did I know just how much of what I alluded to in this Op-Ed piece would ring true a few months later.

 

 

All That Matters, Isn’t Gold

 

I knew I was in trouble when the driver of the taxi that I got into this past weekend in downtown Seoul found out I was from America.

 

“That short-track race was terrible,” the driver said in passable English.

 

Here it comes, I thought. I am going to have to defend the honor of my country because of some so-called controversial call and subsequent disqualification of a Korean skater for an Olympic sport that I could really care less about.

 

“Kim dong-sun was the winner,” said the cab driver. “He should have won the medal, not the American.”

 

I was in no mood for any great debate about who was at fault and who was not, so I nodded silently and stared out the window as the taxi passed the U.S. Embassy where riot police stood poised for trouble and a coterie of photographers milled around waiting for a story. Perhaps another demonstration against the U.S. for having something to do with the outcome of that questionable race.

 

Yes, I’ve seen that footage over and over on television; read all the reports and articles in the local press and on the Internet, and yes it probably wasn’t the cleanest of races. If anyone is to blame it’s the Australian referee, but one gets the impression that the Americans were somehow behind it all. It’s a time like this when it’s tough being an American living overseas. We carry enough historical and cultural baggage to begin with. Now this.

 

Okay, to be fair there was that controversial first race when Apolo Ohno might have bumped one of the Korean speed skaters. And maybe Ohno should be in line for an Academy Award for his great job of acting after the alleged infraction by Kim. I agree that Kim’s disqualification is a bitter pill to swallow here in Korea, but it prefaces a much larger problem that if not checked is going to get way out of hand even though some might believe that it has already.

 

Immediately after the race, as reported here and abroad, there have been numerous reports of Ohno receiving email death threats as well as netizens calling for the boycott of U.S. goods, even calls for South Korea to pull out its bids for the controversial FX fighter. There were even threats that the U.S. will pay dearly when the U.S. team comes here to play during the 2002 World Cup.

 

Granted these are just a handful of email threats and quotes in the local papers and in no way indicative of what all Koreans feel. These email messages could just be from kids with nothing better to do on their school break. However, it’s still being reported and talked about around the water cooler at work or at the supper table. Even in taxis.

 

Like I said, with all this baggage we carry as Americans living overseas, maybe I’m reading more into this than I probably should: a rise in anti-American sentiment. Nonetheless, living here in Korea you kind of expect this anti-American sentiment from time to time here in Korea especially with 37,000 U.S. service members in your backyard. On the other hand, it worries me that some people are maybe blowing this whole short-track thing out of proportion and at the same time calling attention to a more serious problem.

 

What happened on the ice in Salt Lake City in some ways encapsulates the wave of anti-American sentiment here: from the controversy of new apartments on Yongsan and the failure of USFK to turn over Andrew McFarland to Korean authorities to recent claims about more Korean War atrocities committed by U.S. service members, the controversial missile defense shield, and President Bush’s comment about an “axis of evil.”

 

(For the record, just once I wish someone would get this McFarland story right: he did not “dump” chemicals into the Han River directly, he poured them down a drain. By the time these chemicals reached the Han they had been treated twice both by U.S. and ROK sewage treatment facilities and posed no threat to the environment. Gee, you’d think the guy drove down to the Han late at night with a couple of jugs of the formaldehyde to surreptitiously commit some evil act of mortuary espionage!)

 

Even though I have lived in Korea for over 11 years, I don’t know what to make of this current wave of anti-American sentiment. To be honest, it has gotten me a little worried. After September 11 when the world stood by the United States in her hour of need and mourned along with the U.S. the loss of thousands of innocent civilians from the U.S. as well as other countries, the world for one shining moment seemed united. Six months later, it doesn’t seem that way any more.

 

Looks like everything is getting back to normal again.

 

Of course President Bush probably didn’t help things much here with his State of the Union Address last month. First, he refers to North Korea as an “axis of evil,” and the next thing you know you’ve got people demonstrating down in front of the American Embassy because he might have offended their brethren in the North. Granted Bush’s choice of words might have played well in Washington, but here in Seoul they piqued a different kind of response. Maybe this hard-line stance works with members of the U.S. Congress, but it does not bode well for most Koreans. Still, it’s not like Bush was pushing both Koreas to the brink of another war because he’s feeling a little cocky with his war against terrorism.

 

However to play the Devil’s Advocate for a bit, since the historic summit in Pyongyang in 2000 has the North been really keen on reciprocating the peace gestures made by the South? What more does the South have to do? What’s it going to take to convince the Dear One that the gig is up and that it is time to cash in his chips and get with the program?

 

I want Kim Dae-jung’s Sunshine Policy to work just as much as the next guy, but what has the North really showed to the South? I would love for President Kim to finish off his presidency with a bang and not a whimper, but the clock is ticking and the North is still trying to play hardball with the rest of the world.

 

So, President Bush comes to town and as expected people took to the streets. There were a couple of demonstrations against this visit as expected. But you know, I didn’t hear about any movements in America to boycott Korea goods, or deny Koreans visas to come to America because of the young lad who climbed up on the statue of Admiral Yi and burned the American flag. Nor do I believe that act is representative of how all Koreans feel. Likewise, I didn’t hear of any other movements against South Korea when some other feisty youths, misguided in their nationalistic fervor decided to take over the AmCham office.

 

This brings me back to Kim and Ohno. Yes, it was an unfortunate call, but it’s time to move on. I don’t care if Kim is guilty of cross-tracking, if Ohno did a good acting job, or if the Australian referee needs a new pair of glasses. These are athletes and not politicians. It’s wrong to make some international incident out of a questionable call in an athletic event, which is supposed to promote the betterment of the human spirit.

 

South Korea has bigger things to think about.

 

With the World Cup rapidly approaching and Korea the focus of international attention, it’s important to turn down the nationalistic zeal a notch or two. Let the referees and officials do their jobs and avoid these international incidents or public outcry if things don’t go as planned on the playing field. Likewise, it’s important to act responsibly in the stands and out: remember, the whole world is watching. Above all, remember the spirit of the sport, not “us against them.” If not, I pity the U.S. team if they happen to beat Korea as well as the national embarrassment that could follow here.

 

In the meantime, to play it safe, I might be better off telling taxi drivers that I am from Canada or England.

 

My 2001 interview with Lt. Gen. Russel L. Honoré — Part 2

It doesn’t take long for the young men and women who are assigned to the 2ID to feel part of the team, either. Honoré pointed out that although these young men and women are here without their families, they are not here without relatives. He reminds them that they join a family when they come to the 2ID. 

“We got that ‘Hooah’ thing going on all the time. And you hear us say it all the time,” explained Honoré.

‘Hooah’ is a term heard often in the 2ID. It’s a multipurpose, magical word that can mean just about anything, but more often than not is used to express something good.  

“Although the soldiers come to Korea from other great units, it doesn’t take them long after they’ve arrived in Korea to know that they are with the best,” he said.  He also had much praise for the sergeants who take many of these young soldiers under their wings, which is reminiscent of the Spartan army where senior warriors took junior warriors on.  

“Our sergeants are the keepers of the standard,” said Honoré. “By golly, we have great sergeants here. That’s what makes serving in Warrior Country so ‘Hooah!’” 

The 2ID, which first saw action in Korea during the Pusan Perimeter in the summer of 1950, came to Korea with a distinguished history and service record. The division, one of the few active units organized on foreign soil, was formed on October 26, 1917 at Bourmont, France. During WWII, the division landed at Omaha Beach on D-Day + 1. The division would prove itself time and time again as the “Indianheads” blasted their way through the hedgerows of Normandy to liberate the vital port of Brest, and later played an important role during The Battle of the Bulge. 

The first big test for the 2ID during the Korean War came when the North Koreans struck in a desperate human-wave attack on the night of August 31, 1950. In the 16-day battle that followed, the division’s clerks, bandsmen, technical and supply personnel joined in the fight. Later, the division would be the first unit to break out of the Pusan Perimeter.  

However, disaster would befall the division as it raced toward the Yalu River. The Chinese intervention in the conflict spelled disaster for the 2ID at Kunu-ri, where the division lost nearly one-third of its strength. After withdrawing south, the division repulsed a powerful Chinese offensive at Chipyong-ni and Wonju in February 1951.  

Following these battles, the division would continue to prove itself in battle until the end of the war. This strong sense of history is not lost on the soldiers who are assigned to the 2ID.  

“Here you have a unit that is forward deployed on the same ground it fought on during the Korean War. Almost anywhere you go in our area of operations you can make reference to a historic battle that the division was probably involved in,” explained Honoré. “You can say the same thing about the ROK Army here. If you go up to many of these ROK divisions, many of them fought on this same ground.”  

Following the Korean War, the Division would be deployed back to the States, but would return to Korea in 1965. During this time North Korea increased border incursions and infiltration attempts and the 2ID was called upon to help halt these attacks. On November 2, 1966 six soldiers of the 1st Battalion, 23rd Infantry were killed in an ambush by North Korean forces. The following year, another 16 American soldiers were killed.  

In August 1976, the division took part in Operation Paul Bunyan in response to the Panmunjom ax murder incident, when North Korean soldiers in the JSA killed two American officers.  

Today, the division continues to serve an important role as part of the ROK-U.S. alliance.  

With more than 14,000 personnel assigned to it, maintaining good community relations with when soldiers are off-duty is of the utmost importance. Unfortunately, incidents involving U.S. service members with Koreans have, when they occurred, created a negative image of the military and fueled anti-American sentiment.  However, as Honoré pointed out, given the number of personnel assigned to the 2ID, the likelihood of anything happening is “quite low.”  

“Things do happen, and when they do, we try to resolve the issue at the lowest level possible,” he said. “We have a close relationship with the local government. If something should occur, contact is made immediately with local officials to ensure not only transparency, but also to resolve the issue promptly by the SOFA.”  

In addition to the SOFA, Honoré stressed that the Uniform Code of Military Justice system and good leadership from NCOs and junior officers are not only strong safeguards, but work to resolve any issues at the lowest level.  Then there’s the division’s good neighbor policy with local communities, involving it in many community outreach programs. For example, the division supports more than 10 orphanages in the area. Also, this past Arbor Day, soldiers planted more than 1,100 trees. In the past soldiers have helped the farmers harvest rice. Others are participating in the Habitat for Humanity program.  

“We want to be known as good neighbors,” explained Honoré, who regularly meets with local officials.  

In times of disaster the division is ready to lend a helping hand, whether with manpower or equipment. Recently, soldiers assisted farmers in Tongduchon to pump more than 500,000 gallons of water into fields during one of the worst droughts to hit the peninsula.  Honoré believes this sends a strong message to local communities that the division is not just here to maintain peace and stability in the region, but also to help out people in time of need. 

 Being a good neighbor also means being environmentally conscious. The division is constantly working on the enduring problem of infrastructure. There are also “environmental police” that routinely inspect work areas and do on-the-spot corrections and training. Honoré stressed that NCOs and junior officers also set a good standard by being good stewards of our environment.

“Soldiers today, more than at another time in our army, are environmentally smarter,” said Honoré. “If there’s a problem, we get it fixed. When something does happen, usually with our equipment, we put every resource we have to correct the situation.  

“I think local governments are pretty comfortable with us. If they point something out to us we get right on it and fix it. I think that has been a confidence-builder for them.”  

In addition to being environmentally conscious, Honoré talked about the importance of cooperation with local governments for training exercises. Without question, with four ROK corps and a U.S. division, it’s going to get loud now and again. Honoré likened the situation to having a guard dog in one’s backyard.  

“Every once in awhile it’s going to bark,” he said.  

Honoré had praise for the local governments who have supported the division. He pointed out that they always let the local governments or farmers know the areas they are going to be in.  

“This is the most dynamic civil-military operation I have seen in my life,” he said. “The Korean’s appreciation for what it takes to maintain this military and alliance is also second to none.  

“Last year during (operation) Foal Eagle, we went out in the middle of the night. We didn’t know that we were driving over some rice on the road. We paid the farmers for the rice that was lost and at the end of the training; we invited all the farmers over for a big dinner. We know that we are going to be an inconvenience at times, so, how do you compensate for that? By coordination and cooperation, as well as being respectful of people’s livelihood.”

 Whether it’s being prepared to fight tonight, ensuring good community relations or transparency in dealing with local governments, Honoré is proud to play an important role in the ROK – U.S. alliance.  

“It has been exciting serving here. It has been the most fulfilling experience I’ve ever been a part of,” said Honoré. “This isn’t a bad gig.”  

When our interview was over, the general was not about to let me leave without trying my hand one last time at the fine art of throwing a tomahawk.  On the first throw, I miss the target completely. The second one though hits the target with a resounding thump, a few inches from the bull’s-eye.  

“Hooah!”

My 2001 interview with Lt. Gen. Russel L. Honoré — Part 1

While surfing the Internet today I came upon an article about Lt. Gen. Russel L. Honoré (pronounced ON-or-ay) who had retired from the U.S. Army this past January. 

He is best known for serving as commander of Joint Task Force Katrina responsible for coordinating military relief efforts for Hurricane Katrina-affected areas across the gulf coast. Sometimes known as the “Ragin’ Cajun,” Honoré literally stepped into the national and media limelight when New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin said during a radio interview on September 1, 2005, “Now, I will tell you this—and I give the president some credit on this—he sent one John Wayne dude down here that can get some stuff done, and his name is [Lt.] Gen. [Russel] Honoré. And he came off the doggone chopper, and he started cussing and people started moving. And he’s getting some stuff done.” 

I remembered seeing this on CNN back in 2005 and I nearly fell off my chair because in 2001, when Honoré was then commander of the Second Infantry Division (2ID) in Korea, I had the chance to interview him. I am grateful for the writing opportunities that I had for a few years when I was a feature writer for the Korea Times. 

This article appeared in the Korea Times on July 15, 2001  

“We Share a Great Alliance” – says 2ID Commander 

By Jeffrey Miller, Feature Writer 

CAMP RED CLOUD, Uijongbu, South Korea – It’s cool and rainy the day this writer travels north to Uijongbu and into what is known as “Warrior Country,” to have an interview with the commander of the 2nd Infantry Division (2ID), Maj. Gen. Russel L. Honoré. 

Instead of waiting for me in his stuffy office, he waited outside at an adjacent patio. There, Honoré, with a cigar in one hand and a tomahawk in the other, was practicing for the “tomahawk-throwing contest” at this year’s “Warrior Olympics.”    

His first throw just barely misses the bull’s-eye. His second throw hits the target dead on. 

“Here, you give it a try,” said Honoré with a hint of a Creole accent as he hands the Korea Times reporter the tomahawk. “Just relax and release it when you’re ready.” 

The first attempt misses not only the target, but bounces off the backdrop. And no better on the next two tries. 

“You’re releasing it too soon,” said Honoré with the patience of a little league baseball coach. “I bet you by the time you leave here today you might get a bull’s-eye yourself.” 

The tomahawk is an enduring image of Native American warriors and symbolic of their warrior spirit. Another enduring image and symbol of warrior spirit is the “Indianhead” division patch, which has been worn proudly by the 2ID soldiers on their uniforms since the end of WWI. Up here in Warrior Country, both the patch and the 2ID motto “Second to None,” manifest a proud military heritage.

Whether he’s talking about the mission here in Korea and “being prepared to fight tonight,” or serving as commander of the 2ID, it doesn’t take long to learn how proud Honoré is to be a part of the great ROK-U.S. alliance. 

Be prepared to fight tonight. You hear that a lot up here, but this is not merely some gung-ho jargon or Spartan mentality. One has only to be reminded of the threat that has existed since the end of the Korean War, not to mention that the presence of U.S. troops on the peninsula has, for the past 50 years, contributed immensely to peace and stability on the peninsula as well as the region. 

Honoré, a native of Lakeland, Louisiana, who began his distinguished military career in 1971 when he was commissioned as a 2nd Lieutenant, assumed the duties of commanding general of the 2ID last October. This is his second tour in Korea having served here with the 2ID in 1973. In addition to various stateside and overseas assignments, he also commanded a unit that was deployed to Saudi Arabia during Desert Shield/Desert Storm.

Serving up here in Warrior Country, Honoré, who sees the ROK-U.S. alliance day in and day out, is extremely proud to be a part of it.

“I’ll tell you right up front, there’s no daylight between the ROK Army and us,” he explained. “We are ‘katchi kapshida.’ We go together in everything that we do. We share a great alliance.” 

Sharing this alliance also means cooperation and coordination, not only with the ROK Army, but with the ROK government as well. “We work with them, for them and beside them,” noted Honoré. 

The division works closely with local governments, who have been very cooperative in the province, from the 17 different camps located there to the places where the division trains. It is a mission that both countries have shared since the end of the Korean War. 

“There is a passion and a commitment to fulfill the great sacrifices of those who proceeded us by continuing to maintain the armistice and continuing to remind people that the cost of freedom is not free,” said Honoré.

Likewise, this total commitment is across the board.  “We attend each other’s functions, we play sports together, and the ROK Army teaches us Taekwondo,” said Honoré 

Another example of the ROK – U.S. alliance is the Korean Augmentation to the United States Army (KATUSA) Soldier Program, initiated in July 1950, of which more than 2,000 play an essential role within the division. The objective of the KATUSA Soldier Program is to augment the 8th Army with ROK soldiers in order to increase the ROK – U.S. combined defense capability on the peninsula. It represents not only the commitment and cooperation to deter war, but is also symbolic of the ROK – U.S. friendship and mutual support.  “They add an immense combat power to the division,” explained Honoré. “They also are a tremendous resource for our soldiers about Korea.”  

Additionally, the KATUSAs play a vital role in communication with other ROK units. They give the division that capability at the platoon and company level to be able to communicate with their ROK counterparts.  Without question, training and readiness are essential to the mission of any military unit. In Korea, though with soldiers on one-year tours as well as coordination and cooperation with the ROK Army, training is extremely important.  

“We are in a constant training cycle. Soldiers come in as individuals. We have to build teams,” said Honoré. “Training is the cornerstone of what makes us ready to fight tonight.”   

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