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Guarding the Line Between 2 Koreas

Posted December. 30, 2005 03:21,   


At a guard post at Chulwon-gun, Gangwon Province on December 27, soldiers armed with rifles and live ammunition shouted a war cry loud enough to shake the sky at the freezing night. It was 18 degrees below zero, and 25 degrees below with wind chill factored in.

It was freezing, but the Korean soldiers in charge of guarding demilitarized zone (DMZ), several meters away from their guard post, were determined and disciplined.

Private 1st Class Ham Sung-woo (22), kept a watchful eye on the DMZ and said, “The military demarcation line is only two kilometers away. During night watch, we prepare for a possible enemy attack with all our senses awake.”

This year, the military suffered series of embarrassing incidents, including a soldier shooting his comrades to death, and some drill instructors’ forcing draftees to eating feces.

Some criticized the military for its backwardness, and anti-military sentiment ran high that the military is not a decent place where Koreans should serve.

However, those who are called upon to fulfill their obligation to serve the country were determined and brave enough to fight against the freezing cold with youth and passion last night, guarding Korea’s 155 mile-long armistice line.

Signs that read: “Conform, or you may get shot,” cannon sounds from the North that break the silence, and the sound of exploding land mines detonated by wild animals in DMZ are evidence that you are at the front line between the North and the South.

Platoon leader Kim Hyo-eun (25) said, “There are no holidays here. In case of an emergency, we remain awake and cannot sleep. But we are united in thinking that we are defending the border for our families.”

In the past, front line billets were notorious for their poor living conditions, and physical abuse and violence was rampant. However, things have changed over the last few years thanks to efforts to renovate living quarters and to eradicate negative practices within the military.

Guard posts built and renovated since last year accommodate heaters, air conditioners, large beds, flush toilets, hygienic kitchens, and satellite broadcasting facilities.

Sergeant Choi Jang-wook (23) mentioned that when he lived in an old-style billet, he had to sleep uncomfortably in a narrow space and wash his hair with cold water even in the winter, but that now he can shower with warm water.

To satisfy young soldiers, foods served in the barracks include pork cutlets, pork Galbi, chicken soup cooked with ginseng, and spaghetti.

Just a few years ago, it was unimaginable for subordinates to have access to a TV remote control or even laugh, yet private hours are now guaranteed after the duty. After every meal, soldiers are allowed to read, train, play games, and talk to their families on phones installed in their billets.

A soldier stated, “When I was a private, I sometimes got beaten, but now the physical abuse has almost disappeared. A few days ago, my friend sent a letter to me asking ‘what do you feel when you lord over your subordinates?’ I showed the letter to my subordinates and we laughed together.”

At 6:00 a.m. on December 28, during roll call, soldiers ran on a dark drill ground singing a military song after doing aerobic exercises and stretching their bodies to music.

While soldiers were exercising in the morning, a framed poem caught this reporter’s eye. It seemed that soldiers posted the poem to discipline themselves.

“Every night, look back on your day. Think about your loved ones, your mother, your youth. You will become an innocent soul and will start your tomorrow with a bright heart, as a hero, and as a winner.” –Hermann Hesse

Sang-Ho Yun ysh1005@donga.com