Tag Archives: military

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U.S. Soldiers to Participate in Korean Culture Program

by COURTNEY LEE
courtney@iamkoream.com

U.S. soldiers stationed in Korea are literally going to get a kick out of this week.

Soldiers from the United States Forces Korea (USFK) will have the opportunity to participate in a two-day taekwondo camp as part of the “Friends Forever” event, a series of programs organized by Korea’s Ministry of National Defense that aims to introduce Korean culture to U.S. soldiers, according to the Korea Times.

Starting Tuesday, South Korea’s national taekwondo team will teach USFK soldiers the origin and history of taekwondo as well as basic posture and self-defense moves, said the national defense ministry.

The USFK’s event calendar shows the next upcoming event as a two-day cultural orientation program beginning May 27, which will consist of a “tour of the ancient palaces and museums in Seoul.” The tour will also be offered a second time on June 9.

Another two-day tour will take place starting July 8 in Gyeonggi Province, featuring Suwon Castle, a designated UNESCO World Heritage site, and the Second Fleet Command of Navy, which is also home to the wreckage of the Korean vessel Cheonan, which was sunk by a North Korean torpedo in 2010 and led to 46 deaths.

In late October, U.S soldiers will also be able to partake in a “temple stay” at Haeinsa Temple in South Gyeongsang Province so they can “sample Korea’s spiritual culture in traditional Buddhist temples.”

However, promoting good relations between the U.S. and Korea through cultural exchange is nothing new.

As part of its Good Neighbor Program, the U.S. army aims to contribute to the South Korea-U.S. alliance, which includes “Koreans and Americans, service members, family members, and civilians, all working together to maintain stability and prosperity and to serve the military community,” according to General James Thurman. For instance, USFK soldiers periodically host an English Camp for Korean students, allowing them to meet and practice conversing in English with foreigners.

“I appreciate the efforts of USFK soldiers for peacekeeping on the Korean Peninsula,” Defense Minister Han Min-koo told the Korea Times. “I want to ask them to make further efforts to set up the strongest and the most effective combined defense system in the world.”

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Featured image courtesy of the U.S. Army

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British Korean War Veteran Donates Medals to South Korea

by COURTNEY LEE
courtney@iamkoream.com

A British Korean War veteran has donated 10 military medals to South Korea on Tuesday in honor of the country and its people.

William Speakman, 87, presented a total of 10 medals he earned during his 23-year-long military career to the South Korean people on Tuesday, three of which were awarded for his service in the Korean War over 60 years ago, Yonhap News Agency reported.

One of the donated medals was the Victoria Cross (VC), Britain’s highest military decoration for valor. Among the four former soldiers who received a VC for their heroism during the Korean War, Speakman is the sole living holder of the medal.

“I donate my medals to the people in South Korea because what they have done since the war finished has really touched me,” Speakman said in a press conference at the War Memorial of Korea in Yongsan, according to the Korea Times. “They rebuilt South Korea. I am very proud of what [they’ve] done.”

Although the original VC awarded to Speakman is currently preserved in the War Memorial in Scotland, the replica will be on display at the National War Memorial in Seoul, alongside nine other medals the veteran has donated, including the British Korean War Medal and the United Nations Service Medal. Speakman said that they will hopefully serve as reminders of the past.

“I sincerely hope that the future generation of South Korea will follow their forebears and look after this beautiful place of yours,” he said.

During the 1950-1953 conflict, Speakman earned the VC for fighting against Chinese and North Korean forces on November 4, 1951, using hand grenades while under a series of attacks until reinforcements came, according to BBC. The donated medals are also a tribute to British troops that fought bravely in the Korean peninsula. About 100,000 British military personnel were involved in the Korean War with over 1,000 killed.

Speakman also expressed his wish for his ashes to be returned to the country that he fought for.

“I want my ashes scattered in No Man’s Land,” he said, referring to the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) separating North and South Korea.

Speakman, who arrived in South Korea on Monday with a group of fellow British war veterans, expressed his hope for the reunification of the two Koreas, calling for North Korea to realize the consequences of separation. The veterans will visit the U.N. Memorial Cemetery in Busan and DMZ before leaving on Saturday, according to the Korea Times.

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Featured image via Yonhap/EPA

brig gen john cho

Suspended Brig. General John M. Cho Will Not Be Reinstated

by REERA YOO | @reeraboo
reera@iamkoream.com

Brig. Gen. John M. Cho, who was suspended from his post at the Joint Base Lewis-McChord (JBLM) after an investigation found that he failed to treat his staff with respect, will not be returning to command, the Army announced last week.

Cho, a one-star general and thoracic surgeon, lead the Western Region Medical Command, which oversees 11 Army military treatment facilities and 11 Warrior Transition Units across 20 Western states, according to the News Tribune. With his new promotion, Cho’s responsibilities at JBLM included expanding preventive care and streamlining the administration of Defense Department hospitals in the Puget Sound, including Navy hospitals.

He was suspended in September by Lt. Gen. Patricia Horoho, the Army’s Surgeon General, when a complaint was filed about his leadership. Following the suspension, the Defense Department Office of Inspector General launched an investigation.

Army spokeswoman Lt. Col. Alayne Conway said the investigation determined that Cho “failed to treat select subordinates with dignity and respect.” While the findings said there was no toxic command climate under Cho’s leadership, it revealed that the general had failed to conduct an Army-required survey with his subordinates.

She added that the investigation did not involve Cho’s quality of medical care.

Maj. Gen. Thomas Tempel Jr., who led JBLM as the interim commander for six months, will be promoted to a permanent commander. Meanwhile, Cho will be reassigned to the staff of the Office of the Army Surgeon General.

According to the News Tribune, Cho is one of eight senior Army medical commanders to be suspended or relieved of command since 2012. This means that nearly one in five major Army hospital leaders have been dismissed from their positions during that time period.

In 2013, Cho became the first active-duty officer of Korean descent to achieve the rank of brigadier general by promotion. A West Point graduate, Cho previously served as the commander of  Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany and as the deputy commander for support at Army Medical Command.

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Featured image via Army.Mil

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South Korean Soldier Gets Death Penalty Over Killing His Comrades

by STEVE HAN | @steve_han
steve@iamkoream.com

A South Korean army deserter who fired shots at unarmed comrades near the country’s border with North Korea has been sentenced to death by the military court on Tuesday, according to Yonhap News Agency.

The 23-year-old sergeant, known only by his last name Lim, killed five and wounded seven of his comrades by detonating a grenade and firing shots in June of last year near the northeastern coast of South Korea. He also escaped from his unit with a rifle and a stash of ammunition before a siege by thousands of troops caught him.

At the time of the capture, Lim had botched a suicide attempt.

“Capital punishment is inevitable for such a hideous crime that shot the innocent,” said the chief judge of the general military court in a verdict. The judge also added that it “is necessary to hold [Lim] responsible for causing a security vacuum in military zones and to ring an alarm bell against brutal crimes.”

Lim claimed that bullying by his comrades motivated his rampage, which had been rejected by the court. A psychiatric test conducted on Lim in November showed that he was “generally normal,” although he was struggling to adapt to life during his military service, which is compulsory for all able-bodied men in South Korea.

One of the victims in the shooting was a staff sergeant in Lim’s unit. The military law in South Korea stipulates that a soldier could face capital punishment for killing a superior officer.

Lim’s defense lawyer said that he plans to appeal the ruling on the basis that the court dismissed Lim’s claims on being bullied.

Some 60 convicts are on death row in South Korea, but the country’s court hasn’t executed anyone since 1997.

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Photo courtesy of Eto.cr.kr

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).



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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

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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.

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[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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