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1st Marine Division corpsman awarded Silver Star

Navy Corpsman Jonathan Kong Receives Silver Star

by JAMES S. KIM

When former Hospital Corpsman 2nd Class Jonathan Kong saw a Marine go down in open ground from a Taliban ambush, it was more than his training that spurred him into action. Kong remembers that it was like seeing his little brother in trouble.

“Dawers and I were pretty close friends,” Kong told KoreAm in a phone interview, speaking about Cpl. Michael Dawers, the injured Marine. “So I saw him get hit … but I wasn’t really thinking at the time. My feet were already moving. He was already squirming and screaming.”

After reaching the Marine, Kong managed to pull him to safety as the firefight raged on. For his actions, Kong received a Silver Star, the nation’s third-highest award for valor in combat, during a ceremony at Camp Pendleton in California on Sept. 19.

“There’s not a Marine or sailor here that can say they haven’t been scared under fire. But it’s what you do with that fear,” Major General Lawrence Nicholson, commanding general of the 1st Marine Division, said at the ceremony, addressing Kong. “It’s how you channel it, and how you react to it.

“On that June morning, Doc Kong reacted instinctively … [He] saw that Marine laying there in great anguish, and Doc Kong decided at that point that he had to get to his Marine,” the general said. “It is humbling today for all of us to hear that citation, to know what you did in the face of enormous risk and peril to yourself.”

As the squad’s battlefield medical specialist, it was Kong’s job to take care of his fellow Marines, from gun- shot wounds to minor cuts. But the relationship between a Navy corpsman and Marine goes much deeper than doctor-patient.

“Basically, if you’re a corpsman, the Marines will call you a Marine,” said Kong, 25. “They’ll call you ‘Doc.’ We literally do every single thing with them. You definitely get close, and there’s always the underlying theme where I’m there for them as their caregiver.

“You develop this brotherhood that the Marines have with each other. If anything, it might be an even deeper bond, because we’ re there to keep them safe.”

Kong, then Hospital Corpsman 3rd Class, was on his second deployment in June 2011, serving with Company B of the 1st Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment. The squad had trained together for months, but they had yet to see any action during a seasonal fighting lull. That changed during a four-day clearing operation in Kotozay, a village in the dangerous Sangin district in Afghanistan. They kept hearing from the locals that the Taliban were nearby.

The Marines were moving cautiously from compound to compound, minimizing their time out in the open. Kong recalls he was at least 15 meters behind Dawers—a tactic to minimize IED damage—when the Taliban opened fire.

“The first burst hit him right in the chest,” Kong said. “After that, it just erupted. They opened fire on us, and I just started running. I didn’t think about it when I started running, and halfway to him I started thinking, ‘Oh sh-t, this is it.’ It was very clear what was happening at that point. The volume of rounds started increasing. What [the Taliban] like to do is wound you and hope the other guys come out, then shoot [them].

“It seemed helpless as I was running out there. I started shooting back, and I finally made my way to him. I was trying to pull him away, [but since] we were doing a four-day operation, we had a lot more gear than normal. He had a 100-pound rucksack on him, and he was lying in some mud. I was trying to pull him, and he wasn’t moving—I couldn’t get him out. Rounds were kicking all around me and hitting the wall behind us.

“As a desperate measure, I grabbed my rifle and started shooting back,” he continued. “It was basically go down fighting at this point. I thought we were dead in the water and we weren’t going to make it out, so I started returning fire. That’ s when our machine gunner posted up on the corner of the compound and started putting down rounds. I turned back around and unsnapped the pack.

“I grabbed Dawers, and the rounds were still coming down around us, so I just started dragging him away. We ducked behind a wall, and that was that.”

Pot-Intro-ON14-KONGDAWERSJonathan Kong with Michael Dawers, who is holding the chest plate that stopped the bullet. Photo courtesy of U.S. Marine Corps

Kong began stripping the Marine down to assess his condition. Dawers was lucky: A bullet had nicked the top half-inch of his chest plate, and he had suffered a crushed sternum and bruised lung. An inch higher, and the bullet would have probably hit his heart.

As Kong prepared Dawers for air evacuation, the Marine’s first words to the corpsman were, “Doc, you just saved my life.”

It was a defining moment for the young corpsman, who had been entertaining the idea of going into medicine as a career.

“I always wanted to do medicine,” Kong said. “After joining the military and becoming a corpsman, that’ s when it started to click for me. I understood it. I felt that I was good at it, and it made sense for me.”

Kong, who finished his six-year Navy enlistment last year, is now attending classes at De Anza Community College in Cupertino, Calif., before applying to transfer to a university as an undergraduate next year. He isn’ t setting any limits for himself: Ivy League universities are at the top of his list, and then it’s medical school. Kong, who has also been awarded the Navy Good Conduct Medal, Combat Action Ribbon and the Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medal, has his sights on becoming an emergency room doctor to utilize his skills and training.

“After that deployment to Afghanistan and after coming home,” Kong said, “we had around 200 Purple Hearts, and 17 guys didn’t make it home. I think I was like, I’m just going to go for it. I’m going to do big things in my life.

“That’s when med school came on to the blotter. … This is what I’m going to do, and I’m going to attack it with everything I have.”

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Featured photo courtesy of Cpl. Ismael E. Ortega/Marine Corps

This article was published in the October/November 2014 issue of KoreAm under the title “Courage Under Fire”  Subscribe today! To purchase a single issue copy of the magazine issue, click the “Buy Now” button below. (U.S. customers only. Expect delivery in 5-7 business days).



Defense Secretary Hagel Meets With Korean Defense Minister At Pentagon

U.S. to Indefinitely Maintain Wartime Control of South Korean Military

The United States agreed to delay returning its wartime control of the South Korean military until its ally is determined fully equipped to fight North Korea, the Associated Press reported Thursday.

During the Korean War in the early 1950s, the U.S. assumed control of South Korea’s military to fight North Korea and to stand opposed to communism. Although the U.S. returned the peacetime control to South Korea in 1994, it still holds obligations to control the South Korean military in the event of another war.

Many South Koreans, mainly postwar generations, began protesting against the pledge, highlighting that allowing the U.S. wield such power is a slight to their national pride.

The opposition prompted the U.S. to initially accept South Korea’s request in 2007 to return its power by 2012. But in 2010, the handover of wartime control was postponed to 2015 after a South Korean warship was allegedly torpedoed by North Korea. South Korea requested another delay after North Korea successfully launched a long-range rocket in 2012, followed by its third nuclear test earlier this year.

In Thursday’s meeting, U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and South Korean defense minister Han Min-koo agreed to take a “conditions-based approach” that will “focus on South Korea achieving critical defensive capabilities against an intensifying North Korean threat.” South Korean officials said the return of wartime control of the military is now expected to take place in the mid-2020s.

The new delay, which is essentially indefinite, will likely evoke heavy criticism from South Korea’s liberals. Many in South Korea have argued for years that further delaying the transition of wartime military control will be detrimental to inter-Korea relations.

Photo courtesy of AFP

South Korea: Anti-North Korea Protest in Paju

SKorean Activists Vow to Send More Leaflets Across Border

by HYUNG-JIN KIM, Associated Press

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — South Korean activists vowed Thursday to launch balloons next week carrying anti-Pyongyang leaflets across the border into North Korea, days after their campaign triggered gunfire between the rival Koreas.

North Korea considers leaflets an attack on its government and has long demanded that South Korea ban activists from sending them. South Korea refuses, saying the activists are exercising freedom of speech.

Last Friday, North Korea opened fire after propaganda balloons were floated from the South. South Korean soldiers returned fire, but there were no reports of casualties. North Korea has warned it would take unspecified stronger measures if leafleting continues.

South Korean activist Choi Woo-won said Thursday his group won’t yield to the North’s threats and plans to send about 50,000 leaflets on Oct. 25.

“Our government and people must not be fazed even though North Korea, the criminal organization, is blackmailing us,” said Choi, a university professor.

He said his leaflets will urge a military rebellion against North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. “The leaflets will tell North Korean soldiers to level their guns at Kim Jong Un, launch strikes at him and kill him,” Choi said.

Another activist Lee Min-bok said he was also ready to fly millions of leaflets, which describe South Korea’seconomic prosperity and urges North Koreans to flee, as soon as weather conditions such as wind direction are favorable.

“No one can block my rights [to send leaflets],” said Lee, whose leafleting Friday from a South Korean border village was believed to have directly caused North Korea to start firing.

The leafleting was high on the agenda when military generals from the two Koreas met in a border village on Wednesday in the countries’ first military talks since early 2011. During the meeting, North Korea requested again that South Korea prevent leafleting, but South Korea said it could not comply, according to Seoul’s Defense Ministry.

Friday’s shootout came three days after navy ships of the two Koreas exchanged gunfire near their disputed western sea boundary, the scene of several bloody naval skirmishes between the countries in recent years.

South Korean military officials earlier described the Oct. 7 shootout as an exchange of warning shots. But they later revealed at least one of three South Korean navy ships involved aimed to destroy a North Korean ship but failed because of a mechanical problem in its artillery guns.

The shootout happened because the North Korean ship violated the sea boundary and opened fire in response to warning shots fired by the South Korean ship, according to officials at South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff. The North Korean quickly turned back to its waters after the South Korean ship began firing, they said.

Earlier, hopes for better relations were given impetus after a group of high-level North Korean officials made a rare visit to South Korea earlier this month and agreed to resume senior-level talks.

The Korean Peninsula remains in a technical state of war because the 1950-53 Korean War ended with an armistice, not a peace treaty.

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Associated Press writer Kim Tong-hyung contributed to this report. Photo courtesy of Lee Young-Ho/Sipa USA.

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Screen Shot 2014-10-15 at 3.13.08 PM

[VIDEO] U.S. Marines and South Korean Army Bands Battle in Drum-off

by REERA YOO

The drums of war have never sounded so friendly.

The III Marine Expeditionary Force Band (III MEF) and the Republic of Korea Army Band (ROK) recently engaged in a lighthearted drum-off to kill time before a parade. Both bands gave impressive performances and seemed to enjoy themselves as they were seen cheering and smiling throughout the entire match, which was later ruled by a band leader as a tie.

The video has garnered more than 800,000 views after being uploaded last week. Majority of the viewers praised the two bands’ enthusiastic performances and good sportsmanship. One commenter even wrote, “This is how wars should be fought.”

Watch the epic drum battle below:

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SKorean Military Punishes Generals Over Shooting Rampage and Private’s Death

by REERA YOO

The South Korean army said it has punished its two major generals over the two violent incidents that prompted criticism over the military’s long history of abuse and bullying this year, reported Yonhap.

Lim, an army sergeant in his early 20s, went on a shooting rampage near the North Korean border, killing five of his comrades and wounding seven others, back in June. He reportedly fled to the forest after the shooting, but was captured after he shot himself in his abdomen in a failed suicide attempt.

At the time of the incident, the military was unable to pinpoint Lim’s motive for the mass shootings, but said Lim was previously categorized as needing “special attention,” meaning he was determined to be at a high risk of committing suicide, according to ministry data. Investigators later discovered that Lim was bullied by his comrades before he went on his shooting rampage, reported Yonhap.

The military said it has cut one month’s wage from the major general in charge of Lim’s division as punishment. Another major general has been ordered to be on his best behavior for 10 days over the death of Private Yoon, who was bullied and fatally beaten to death by his comrades.

In April, Yoon died of asphyxiation after allegedly choking on food while he was being beaten by his comrades. The incident prompted the army chief of staff Kwon Oh-sung to resign as the public criticized the military officials for initially trying to cover up the abuse of the private.

The South Korean army has identified the generals only by their surnames, Seo and Lee.

Last month, two soldiers died during an anti-captivity training exercise, presumably due to suffocation. Since then, there has been even more public outcry over the military’s deep-rooted culture of abuse.

Featured photo via Yonhap

koreamines

U.S. Excludes Korean Peninsula From Pledge to Destroy Land Mines

by REERA YOO

The White House announced on Tuesday that it would eliminate all stockpiles of anti-personnel land mines except those in the Korean peninsula, reported Yonhap.

The State Department said that, outside of Korea, the U.S. will cease the use of all anti-personnel mines, complying with the 1999 Ottawa Convention, which bans the use, stockpiling, production and transfer of land mines.

The U.S. cited “unique circumstances” in the two Koreas and its commitment to South Korea’s defense as the main reasons why the country cannot accede to the 15-year-old global treaty.

“We will continue our diligent efforts to pursue solutions that would be compliant with and ultimately allow us to accede to the Ottawa Convention while ensuring our ability to meet our alliance commitments to the Republic of Korea,” National Security Council spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden said.

According to The Wall Street Journal, millions of anti-personnel land mines remain buried under the demilitarized zone and are regularly replaced from both sides. In recent years, South Korea has periodically found land mines washed up in areas frequented by civilians after heavy rainfalls and landslides. This has caused numerous deaths and critical injuries to civilians. The latest known civilian death caused by a land mine occurred just last year when a farmer died while plowing a field in South Korea.

Although the Obama Administration said it is “deeply concerned about the humanitarian effects of anti-personnel land mines,” the U.S. is yet to sign the treaty, despite more than 160 countries already being signatories.

“As the world’s leading donor to humanitarian mine action, we have long worked to mitigate the human cost of their use,” said State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki.

She added that the U.S. has provided more than $2.3 billion in aid since 1993 to more than 90 countries to help destroy conventional weapons, including land mines.

Photo via Real Clear Defense

jets

South Korea to Buy 40 F-35A Fighter Jets for $7 Billion

by REERA YOO

South Korea announced on Wednesday that it plans to buy 40 F-35A fighter jets from Lockheed Martin for about $7 billion, reported Retuers.

South Korea agreed to the purchase in March and has since been negotiating over price, technology, quality and safety as well as conducting tests on the jets. Under the purchase deal, which has yet to be signed, Lockheed Martin will transfer fighter production technologies for South Korea’s $8.2 billion KF-X program to develop its own advanced fighter jets, said South Korea’s Defense Acquisition Program Administration (DAPA).

“We have agreed to acquire 40 jets within the total budget within the total budget and reflect all the terms negotiated during the 2013 competition,” DAPA said in a statement, adding that the new jets are expected to be delivered between 2018 and 2025.

This is the South Korea’s biggest weapons purchase to date and is designed to replace the country’s aging warplanes and to better defend itself from North Korea’s military threats. According to The New York Times, the country hopes to produce about 120 fighter jets similar to Lockheed’s F-16 Fighting Falcon for its air force, beginning 2025.

Last year, South Korea dropped an option to buy 60 of Boeing Co.’s F-15 jets at about $7 billion after deciding that the jets lacked the stealth capabilities needed to cope with North Korea’s nuclear threats.

Photo via Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images

Kong Silver Star

Former Navy Corpsman Awarded Silver Star for Saving Marine Under Heavy Fire

by REERA YOO

A former Navy hospital corpsman was awarded a Silver Star, the U.S. military’s third highest decoration for valor, at Camp Pendleton for saving an injured Marine during an enemy ambush in Afghanistan.

Jonathan Kong, now a pre-med student, was serving under the 1st Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment on June 13,2011 when his platoon was ambushed by the Taliban. After Kong saw a Marine get shot in the chest and fall to the ground, he boldly charged from his covered position into the kill zone, dodging a “hail of bullets,” and pulled the wounded Marine to safety, according to NBC San Diego.

“People tell me I was brave and courageous, but ultimately, I wasn’t even thinking,” Kong said.

After treating the Marine for his injuries, Kong then provided vital information about the enemy’s position, said Navy officials.

Kong Navy Corpsman(Photo via Armed Forces’ Facebook Page and Examiner)

Kong was awarded the Silver Star on Sept. 19 and was meritoriously promoted to petty officer second-class. As he was presented the prestigious medal, Kong humbly said he did not deserve it as he was simply following his instincts and called his actions “almost more stupid than it was brave.”

In addition to the Silver Star, Kong was also presented with the Combat Action Ribbon, Navy Good Conduct Medal, and the Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medal. The San Jose native finished his six-year tour in the Navy in 2013 and is currently studying medicine at Stanford in hopes of becoming a doctor.

Featured photo via UT San Diego