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Being Assigned to Korea

(Guide note: This was posted in our message forum, in response to a message from a new Army recruit with orders to Korea, asking about what it is like to be stationed in Korea as an Infantry member. This response was so informative, I thought I would reproduce it here).

Korea sucks. Korea is a great duty station. Those are the only two responses you will ever get about Korea. That said, I loved it. That said, many of my fellow troops hated it. The only difference between what it will be like for you as an Infantry private in Korea and an Infantry private in the States is that you will be an infantry private in Korea, which is 15,000 miles from the US. You will be restricted in certain regards (you can't have a car, you won't see many round-eye women) but you also have the opportunity to experience a culture that has been around for 5,000 years. I would say that 85% of soldiers in Korea blow this chance because the confuse being lonely for home with hating Korea and Koreans. I knew guys who never once ate in a Korean resturaunt. On the other hand I ate out in Korean resturaunts at least 2 times a week. Most soldiers (especially infantry privates) experience Korea this way: They work, they go "down range" (slang for the local town where their camp is), they get drunk, they spend exorbiant amounts of money buying drinks for a prostitute, they get too drunk to do anything with the prostitue (which is what her goal is), they stumble home at midnight. Repeat the following weekend. Most privates think all Koreans are like the bar whores they spend their money on. They aren't. If you are openminded enough to go to a town that isn't outside the gates of whichever camp you are stationed at you will find that the older Koreans will be happy to see you - you probably won't spend a dime on drinks as they will all be bought for you. Be warned, however, that Korean males are more friendly than you are used to seeing with US males. Korean males dance together without ever once confusing this with being "gay." Korean females also dance together and you will frequently see them holding hands - this doesn't mean you are going to experience a threesome. If you are a homophobic bigot then stay in the country bars with the rest of the homophobic bigots and cry into your beer and count down the days until you go home. Taking this route will most definitely mean your time in Korea will be spent in misery.

Korea is Siberian well-digger's a$$ cold in winter. Most of the US casualties during the Korean war were due to frostbite and hypothermia. Korea is sweltering hot in summer. There are two seasons in Korea: -20 degrees and +120 degrees. Complaining about it won't do a darn thing to change the weather.

You won't learn to speak Hangul in Korea. Surprise me and learn to speak the language, however. If you do you'll make a Korean happy. Unless you learn to speak Korean frequently, however, and can test out of the DLAB when you complete SF training then learning a snippet of Korean (Hangul) won't make a bit of difference when it comes to being assigned a language (and therefore an SF group).

Infantry units go on the same exercises in Korea that infantry units go on in the US - the only difference being that they are in Korea. There is a heightened sense of security in Korea, however, that you won't experience in the US because you are still technically in an area next to a country that we are officially still at war with. There are alerts in Korea. You will be on "hot" platoon every few weeks. Normally this means that you can't go off base (normally you can't even leave your company AO) because when an alert goes off you have about 5 minutes to get your sh*t and be ready to move out. If North Korea ever decides to invade South Korea you will be a dead Infantry private. The 50,000 US forces in Korea would be overrun by the 2,000,000 North Koreans in a matter of days. NKorea knows this, SKorea knows this, the US knows this. That said, N Korea is unlikely to invade South Korea. Again, if they do, you will die. Don't think you won't because that is underestimating the enemy which means you won't get to kill as many of them before you die as you would if you treated them as a legitimate opposing force.

If you are lucky enough to see a training tape of the North Korean army, pay attention. I know they showed a tape to us. Believe me when I say this that the North Korean forces train in a manner that NO US forces train. Remember this when you are wearing your cold weather gear and shivering when it is below freezing. Remember that the NKoreans train by running through rivers half-naked when it is below freezing. Remember also that the staple of the NKorean diet is rice and that they are used to far less food than you are. They are also fighting to the extreme best of their ability (and then some) because if they don't then the Govt of NKorea will kill their families. You don't have to worry about that in the US Army. Quitting for a NKorean is NOT an option.

Scared yet? You should be. Think I'm BSing you? I'm not. I was there. I was on the DMZ for 6 months.

All this aside, you can have the time of your life in Korea. Drinks are cheap. It will cost you the equivalent of about $10 to take a train from one end of SKorea to the other. I knew of about 5 people who actually did this, however. The majority of people, as I already mentioned, spent their free time drowning their sorrows and singing along to Garth Brooks in some bar or other. You probably will too because that is what your friends are doing. Prove me wrong.

Some Infantry troops (at least when i was there) are assigned to the DMZ. You get to wear a special patch on your left shoulder instead of the 2 ID patch if you are unlucky enough to be selected for this duty. It sucks. You spend 24 hours on/48 hours off duty. Your 24 hours on are spent patrolling the DMZ (unless you are an MP which means you get to stand face to face in Panmunjon with a NKorean MP). The following 24 hours are for rest. The next 24 hours are for training and getting ready to go back on patrol. Repeat until you are sick to death of being an Infantryman in Korea.

That said, relatively few Infantrymen are selected to serve on the DMZ. The year after I left (1991) ALL US troops were pulled from the Z and control of it was given to the SKorean soldiers. A short time later this policy was reversed and US soldiers once again patrolled the Z because the SKoreans f*cked it up and there were security breaches. "Gooks in the wire" is not just something said in the movies (Koreans are not called gooks, however, but bucketheads by illiterate and bigoted morons who are prone to insulting people from other countries. If you call a Korean a buckethead, however, be prepared to have your a$$ kicked by him. Be prepared, also to have your a$$ kicked by your NCO who probably has a Korean wife.) I am not sure if US soldiers still patrol the DMZ at this date.

If you aren't assigned to the DMZ then take one of the tours up there and see it for yourself. It is an amazing place. Korean duty is "real-world" There is no faking it. There is a real mission. Pray to whatever god answers your prayers that NKorea doesn't decide to invade SKorea. As I said before, if they do you will die. I don't care if you are Rambo with an M-16. They would simply overwhelm US forces there. US Army forces in Korea aren't known as the "worlds largest speedbump" for nothing.

As far as Special Forces go, you have to wait until you are back in the US to go to SFAS. If you don't have Airborne in your contract now, get it. Tell your recruiter that you aren't going to go into the Army (you have this option) UNLESS you get Airborne in your contract. Do exactly as I tell you and say "Sergeant X, I want Airborne in my contract and I am not going to go into the Army unless I have it." Why? Because if you don't get it now, before you ship, then you likely won't have a chance to get it unless you re-enlist and request it. I am telling you this for a reason. If you are Airborne Infantry then after Korea you will most likely be assigned to the 82d Airborne Division. SF is just down the road from the 82d. I don't care what the regulations say about going out for SF ("If you are not Airborne qualified you must volunteer for Airborne duty") if it comes down to one slot and the choice is between you, non Airborne qualified and another you, who is Airborne qualified, guess which one they are going to choose? If you are not Airborne and are a sorry-a$$ed leg, then you won't be assigned to the 82d. This will make it EXTREMELY hard for you to attend SFAS (Special Forces Assessment and Selection) because your unit doesn't want to lose you (and pay for your slack a$$ to travel to Ft. Bragg, fail SFAS, and then come back to the unit. It is MUCH easier for someone already stationed at Ft. Bragg to attend SFAS than it is for someone NOT at Ft. Bragg. You probably will fail SFAS. Don't cry about it. Most people DO fail SFAS. Prove me wrong.

If you are at Infantry school and the Ranger recruiters offer you the chance to go to RIP (Ranger Indoctrination Program) then take it. It will prepare you for when you go to SFAS.

SFAS is about 30 days long and is intense. You will have to perform Land Nav and do a host of other seemingly BS tasks - all while having no sleep and little food. Again, they don't care if you are Rambo, the purpose of SFAS is to see how well you can perform a mission with people who aren't Rambo. If you are selected to attend the Q course (SF Qualification course) then you will be permanently assigned to an SF unit during your year+ long schooling. How well you perform on the DLAB (Defense Languages Aptitude and Battery) will dictate which language SF wants you to learn. If it is at ALL possible for you to take the DLAB while in Korea (you have to put in a 4187 request to do so) then take it. The test makes absolutely no sense whatsoever (it consists of a made-up language). If you fail it then you can't go SF. I believe the minimum score (unless the regs have changed) is an 85.

If you think I am being an a$$hole, I don't really care. It doesn't change the fact that you will be going to Korea and that you are a Private that doesn't know anything and that I am NOT a private and I do know something. If you can read this message without being p*ssed off and wanting to ~try~ to kick my a$$ then there may be hope for you to become an SF soldier.

As far as the barracks go in Korea, they are generally better than the barracks at the eighty-second (at least when I was in Korea and then the 82d).

Contributed by ABNMIKE

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