Tag Archives: military

View from North to South

North Korean Soldiers Briefly Cross DMZ

by REERA YOO | @reeraboo

About 10 North Korean soldiers crossed the military border into South Korea near Cheorwon, Gangwon Province on Saturday morning, but retreated immediately after the South fired warning shots, reported Yonhap News Agency.

According to South Korea’s Ministry of National Defense, the South Korean military warned the North Korean soldiers via speakers to not approach any further after they had crossed the Military Demarcation Line (MDL). Although the North Korean soldiers were armed, they retreated after the South fired warning shots and did not return fire.

This is the first time in 2015 that South Korea has fired warning shots at the heavily armed border. Last October, tensions on the border flared when North Korea shot down anti-Pyongyang propaganda balloons launched by South Korean activists. The South responded by firing 40 rounds of machine guns. At the time, there were no reports of damage or injury. 

Authorities are still investigating what may have prompted the North Korean soldiers from intrude the border. One source told the Joongang Ilbo that there have been signs of the North Korean army increasing reconnaissance and patrols along the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ).

The brief intrusion came on the same day North Korea officially announced Pak Yong-sik as its new defense minister. South Korea’s National Intelligence Service told lawmakers in May that Pak’s predecessor, Hyon Yong-chol, was executed for complaining about Kim Jong-un’s policies and sleeping during a meeting. While North Korea’s state media officially confirmed Hyon’s replacement, it did not verify Hyon’s execution.

See Also


North Korean Soldier Crosses DMZ to Defect to South

Kim Jong-un Has Executed 70 Officials: Seoul


Featured image via Wikimedia Commons

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U.S. Soldier Found Dead at Army Base in South Korea


by REERA YOO | @reeraboo

An American soldier has died during a navigation training exercise in South Korea, the United States Forces Korea said in a statement on Thursday.

According to Reuters, the body of Michael William Corey, an intelligence analyst, was found near the outskirts of Camp Jackson, a U.S. Army base located north of Seoul, on Monday.

The cause of death is unknown and the incident is currently under investigation, the U.S. military said.

Originally from Oro Valley, Ariz., Corey joined the Army last year and was assigned to the 441st Military Intelligence Battalion in Camp Zama in Japan. He was sent to South Korea to participate in the “Warrior Leader Course.”

Since the 1950-53 Korean War ended in an armistice, and not a peace treaty, the U.S. has been South Korea’s main military ally for the past few decades. There are about 28,000 U.S. troops are stationed in South Korea.

Camp Jackson is one of the smallest U.S. military installations in South Korea and serves as a training base to U.S. non-commissioned officers, according to Reuters. South Korean soldiers who are proficient in the English language also serve within the Korean Augmentation to the US Army, also known as KATUSA.


Featured image via U.S. Army

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North Korean Soldier Crosses DMZ to Defect to South

by REERA YOO | @reeraboo

A teenaged North Korean soldier walked across the heavily mined Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) on Monday in a bid to defect to South Korea, the South Korean defense ministry said.

After crossing the 2.5-mile-wide DMZ, the 19-year-old soldier approached a remote South Korean guard post in Gangwon Province’s Hwacheon county at around 8 a.m. on June 15, according to the New York Times. There were no warning shots or exchange of fire, as the solider clearly expressed his wish to defect as he crossed the inter-Korean border, according to defense ministry officials. He is currently being held in custody while South Korean authorities run a background check.

It is extremely rare for defectors to walk across the DMZ, especially since it is heavily fortified with land mines, barbed wire and patrolmen. The last such crossing was back in 2012, when a North Korean serviceman scaled three barbed-wire fences and knocked on the barracks of South Korean border guards. That same year, another North Korean soldier killed two of his commanding officers before crossing the western side of the DMZ.

Most North Korean defectors, many of whom are civilians, usually cross the North Korea-China border and travel through Southeast Asian nations to reach South Korea.

According to South Korea’s unification ministry, the number of North Korean defectors dropped from 2,706 in 2011 to 1,397 last year. So far, 535 North Korean defectors have arrived in South Korea within the past five months of 2015.

In recent weeks, North Korea has been increasing guard patrols along the DMZ in order to prevent defection through the inter-Korean border, according to Yonhap News Agency.

Also on Monday, North Korea said it would release two South Korean detainees who were arrested on May 11 for illegally entering the country through China. South Korea’s unification ministry agreed to the proposal and announced that the two detainees will be received at the truce village of Panmunjom on Wednesday.


Featured image via journeylism.nl

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Live Anthrax Samples “Inadvertently” Distributed to U.S. Labs, S. Korean Air Base

by JAMES S. KIM | @james_s_kim

A U.S. Army laboratory in Utah inadvertently sent live samples of anthrax to facilities in nine states, as well as an additional sample to a U.S. military base in Osan, South Korea, Pentagon officials said on Thursday.

The Washington Post reported that workers at a facility in Maryland discovered the first live sample after it had arrived from Dugway Proving Ground in Utah on May 22. Pentagon officials said the samples were shipped via a commercial delivery service. Upon further investigation, officials said it was possible the samples in U.S. could have found their way to other government or private facilities.

The Osan Air Base in South Korea said in a statement on Wednesday that 22 personnel may have been exposed to the anthrax and that the base had taken “prudent precautionary measures” to destroy the sample and decontaminate the facility. After a series of examinations, antibiotics and even vaccinations in some cases, the statement added that none of the base’s personnel have shown any signs of possible exposure.

The Pentagon, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and Osan Air Base all downplayed the threat, saying there was no threat to the general public in both the U.S. and South Korea. A Pentagon official also confirmed there were no suspected or confirmed cases of anthrax infection among lab workers stateside.

According to the CDC, there are several treatments for anthrax, from antibiotics to antitoxins once the subject is hospitalized. Patients may require “aggressive treatment, such as continuous fluid drainage and help breathing through mechanical ventilation.”

The disease, caused by a bacterium, is spread by spores. Infection can be caused by inhaling or ingesting the spores, or coming into direct contact with diseased flesh or blood, which caused a 2014 outbreak in India that allegedly killed seven people.

Anthrax has also been used in bioterrorism as a biological weapon in powdered and aerosol form. In 2001, several letters containing anthrax spores were went to various media outlets and the offices of two Democratic senators, infecting 22 people (including 12 mail carriers) and ultimately killing five.


Featured image via Washington Post/Utah National Guard

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South Korean Soldier Kills 2 in Shooting Spree Before Committing Suicide

by JAMES S. KIM | @james_s_kim

A 24-year-old South Korean soldier shot and killed two fellow reservists and injured two others before turning the gun on himself earlier Wednesday, according to the Associated Press.

The shooter, surnamed Choe, was participating in a mandatory training session with fellow reservists. Choe had fired one round when he suddenly turned his K-2 rifle on them and fired seven times. He then used the ninth out of the 10 bullets he had been given to kill himself.

Army officials said the two reservists who died were shot in their heads; one died while being transported to the hospital, while the other succumbed to his injury shortly after arriving. Choe was also a reservist who had finished his compulsory military training: All able-bodied men in South Korea are required to serve two years in the armed forces and then participate in annual military training in the reserve force for eight years, up to a max of 160 hours per year.

Yonhap News reported that Choe was put in a group of soldiers who needed “special attention” during his active service due to high risk of suicide and had received treatment for depression. In a suicide note found in his pocket following the shooting, Choe had written that life was meaningless and that he had suffered during his time in the military.

“Tomorrow, I will do shooting practice. … I am becoming obsessed with thinking that I want to kill them all and I want to die,” the note read.

Bullying and Tragic Deaths in the South Korean Military


There have been a number of incidents in recent years by South Korean soldiers at army barracks that have prompted concerns and criticism about social issues in the military, including bullying, abuse, sexual harassment and proper awareness of mental health conditions. According to statistics by the Ministry of National Defense in Seoul, the army saw an average of 82.2 suicides a year between 2009-13.

An army sergeant in his 20s who went on a shooting rampage and killed five and wounded seven others in June 2014 had also been categorized as needing “special attention.” He later told investigators he had taken offense after discovering his colleagues’ drawings that portrayed him as various cartoon characters, including SpongeBob SquarePants.

In April 2014, a South Korean private died of asphyxiation after allegedly choking on food while being beaten by fellow soldiers, and two soldiers died last September during an anti-captivity training exercise, presumably due to suffocation. A female officer committed suicide in October 2013, and a South Korean military investigation determined that she had suffered repeated sexual harassment while on active duty.

Conscientious Objectors


Compulsory military service has become a contentious issue in itself. Human rights watchdog Amnesty International issued a report on Wednesday urging South Korea to end the imprisonment of around 600 men for draft-dodging. These “conscientious objectors” had been unfairly labeled as criminals, the report said, and the men faced “harsh consequences,” including abuse and discrimination, after their release because of their refusal to serve. Many of the objectors cite reasons based on their religious faith

South Korean officials have maintained that the mandatory service must remain in place as long as North Korea poses a military threat. In 2007, the Ministry of Defense considered alternatives to military service, but any ideas were scrapped once Lee Myung-bak became president the next year. Lee took a hard line stance towards North Korea, and current president Park Geun-hye has largely continued a similar policy.


Featured image via South China Morning Post

influential figures

25 Years of KoreAm Covers: Influential Figures

To mark the 25th anniversary of KoreAm Journal, we’re revisiting some memorable covers from the magazine’s archives.

Take a look at some of the creative talent, athletes, influential figures, social issues and tragic events that have appeared on our cover. The panoply of images, we hope, will serve as a historical flashback, a glimpse into the people that inspired us, the issues we explored and the events that called for deeper reflection over the last 25 years.


Here are some influential figures who have graced KoreAm‘s cover over the past 25 years. 


Congressman Jay C. Kim (April 1998): A closer look at the first Korean American elected to U.S. Congress, who in 1998 was sentenced to two months’ home detention for campaign finance violations. “After rescheduling three or four times, we were denied an interview in the 11th hour,” John Lee, a contributing editor at the time, says.


50 Novel Ideas (June 1999): “A guide to every published Korean American novel” was the focus of this cover feature.


Chang-Rae Lee (Sept. 1999): By this time, the author of 1995’s Native Speaker was about to debut his second novel, A Gesture Life.


Lela Lee (May 2001): Spending time with Lela Lee, creator of the Angry Little Asian Girl cartoon, which Lee developed in 1994.


Our Philanthropists (June 2001): KoreAm profiles four Korean American philanthropists “who realize money’s power is not just for the taking, but for the giving too.”


Sketch of Obama (Feb. 2009): Korean American artist David Choe created this portrait of a newly inaugurated Barack Obama that formed the cover issue image.


Chef David Chang (June 2009): The famed Korean American was well on his way to building his Momofuku empire with Noodle Bar, Ssam Bar, Milk Bar and Ko.


Out: Lt. Dan Choi (Aug. 2009): KoreAm profiles Army discharge 1st Lt. Dan Choi, an Iraq veteran and vocal critic against the military’s Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy.


Michelle Rhee (Dec. 2009): Two-plus years into the D.C. School Chancellor’s tenure, KoreAm looked at the education leader’s record.


Phil Yu, aka Angry Asian Man (Nov. 2010): Ten years after the launch of popular blog Angry Asian Man, KoreAm learned how its founder Phil Yu became, in the words of writer Jeff Yang, “Asian America’s most influential blogger.”


Jane Kim (Feb. 2011): KoreAm spoke with Jane Kim, the first Korean American elected official in San Francisco and “unabashed policy geek.”

In the next chapter of “25 Years of KoreAm Covers,” we share some of the tragedies and natural disasters that KoreAm covered over the years.

Go to Next Chapter -> 


Read the previous chapter, “Koreans on the Road to Fame.” 

This article was published in the April/May 2015 issue of KoreAm. Subscribe today! To purchase a single issue copy of the April/May issue, click the “Buy Now” button below. (U.S. customers only. Expect delivery in 5-7 business days).


Army Veteran Turns to Social Media in Search of His Long-Lost Twin Children

by JAMES S. KIM | @james_s_kim

Army veteran Allen Thomas had spent over 40 years unsuccessfully searching for the whereabouts of his twin children he left behind in South Korea. But since taking to Facebook just a week ago with the assistance of his daughter, the story of his search has since gone viral. It’s been shared over a million times, while the public group has swelled to over 30,000 members.

Thomas told NBC News that he would understand if his children refused to see him. “I just need to know they’re OK and tell them I love them,” he said. “These are my kids, and I’ve never stopped loving them.”

“I want to share our family health history with them, because some of it is serious,” he added. “I want them to know that I have never stopped trying to get them.”

Thomas was 18 years old when he joined the Army in the mid-1960s. When he was shipped out to South Korea the next year, he met a woman who soon became pregnant with twins. James and Sandia (who also went by Jamie and Sandra) were born on Sept. 10, 1967, and Thomas married their mother a few months later.

First BirthdayAllen Thomas and his wife celebrating the first birthdays for their twin children.

Although the initial plan was to have the entire family eventually move to the States, the marriage “disintegrated,” according to Thomas’s daughter, Charlene Roberts. Thomas stayed in Asia following his Korea tour to be close to the children, and he took a 30-day leave in January 1971 while he was stationed in Vietnam to visit them in Korea.

It turned out to be the last time he saw James and Sandia in person. Thomas’s wife did not want to follow him back to the U.S. or allow the children to leave. “He even considered going AWOL to take his kids,” Roberts said.

Allen ThomasAllen Thomas in uniform.

Thomas sent letters and money to his family in Korea when he returned to the U.S., but his wife cut off all communication with him. He obtained a default divorce, and he remarried in 1973.

In 1974, Thomas received a final offer from the twins’ mother, who said she would relinquish the children to his custody. But Thomas and his wife couldn’t come up with the money to immediately bring them over, and he found out that the children had been adopted by another American family in 1976, right after he had left the U.S. Army. According to Korean law, his permission was not needed, and the mother would not give the address of the children.

Since then, Thomas continued to search for his kids, checking with American adoption agencies and registering with Korean American groups where the twins might be members. Thomas and Roberts expanded the search to Facebook when he moved in with his daughter recently. Roberts and fellow admins have posted daily updates on the search, and you can see the latest developments on the Facebook page.


Featured image via Facebook


U.S. Soldiers to Participate in Korean Culture Program


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.”


Featured image courtesy of the U.S. Army