Christmas Alone

Of the nearly 30 years that I’ve been married, I’ve been away from home at Christmas 3 times. Some would argue that a 90% at-home rate is pretty good, especially for a military family, but when you’re in the midst of that 10% absence, the 90% doesn’t bring a whole lot of Christmas cheer.

According to the Department of Defense, about 220,000 Service Members are serving overseas this Christmas season, so I’m certainly not alone and by comparison to the men and women in places like Iraq and Afghanistan, I don’t have it too bad, but all the same, it would be nice to be home with family.

Christmas-rolls
Not as good as my wife makes from scratch, but not too bad!

With that said, being alone over the holidays does give one the opportunity to reflect on what is really important and on the blessings that are enjoyed, even when separated from friends and family. So, on this Christmas morning, with Christmas carols playing on the stereo and cinnamon rolls baking in the oven (see, I really don’t have it that bad!), I want to take a minute to share some of my blessings.

Unlike many men and women in uniform, I did get to go home and celebrate Thanksgiving with my family (all but one child was there!). This was a great blessing after 5 months away from home. Even having a “honey-do” list while there, just being home with my family encouraged and renewed me.

It’s also my family who continue to be a blessing. Just knowing that they’re there, “there” as in home, is a blessing. To have the love of a family who cares, blesses more than words can adequately express. To know that my home is where my family is -even if I’m not there- and that that home is full of those I love and who love me is a wonderful thought that helps to get me through these difficult times.

While my wife is part of the family I’ve already mentioned, she brings an even greater blessing to me. She has to take up much of the slack when I’m away. She has to be the mother and the father. She has to take care of the repairs and maintenance…and she also has to deal with me being away from home. The knowledge of her commitment not only to me, but to my calling is a blessing of saintly proportions. To know that she is not only behind me in what I do, but often beside me when I do it, enables me to drive on when the road seems too hard to travel.

Christmas-Eve-
Area II Protestant Community Christmas Eve Service at South Post Chapel, USAG Yongsan

When away from home, our reliance on other relationships for support becomes more important. For me, these relationships are best found in the Church, the family of God. Having the opportunity to worship with another part of the Body of Christ during one of the most important holy days of the year is a blessing that lives on and continues wherever the military takes me.

With recent messages received, I’m reminded of the blessing of my church family at home, as well. A pastor and wife who remember me in prayer and the rest of the church family who look after my family while I am away is a blessing for me now and will be a blessing for them later.

There are also those unexpected blessings that come. Since I’ve been in Korea, I’ve had the opportunity to meet and fellowship with people I would have never otherwise had the opportunity to know, like a pastor and his family of my denomination who is ministering here in Seoul. And like the missionary from South Africa, also from my denomination,  who was here visiting a family member and I was able to have lunch with. To be able to have coffee or lunch and great conversation in person with Christian friends (and thinkers) is an immense blessing.

Bottom line, wherever I go, I know that God is there. Whatever I face, I know that God goes with me. Whatever discouragement I may feel, I know that God comforts me. So really, I’m not alone at all. The Jesus who I celebrate today is with me. The God who chose to become man and walk on this earth with humankind, continues to be present with me today. This is a true blessing. The salvation that He brings me, makes this Christmas -and every Christmas- more than just a holiday to celebrate with family and friends, but a relationship to experience which never leaves me alone and never leaves me wanting. Alone this Christmas? Not by a long shot!

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Food Critic Korea: McDonald’s-Quarter Pounder with Cheese

Korean McDonalds Menu Board

Since I have been in South Korea, one of the things that I have been asked is if American-branded food tastes the same in Korea as in the United States so I decided to do a little exploration to find out. I sought out the standard of Americana-McDonald’s-as my first test. I went to the one in Itaewon, primarily because it’s the only that I know the location of (and can easily walk there) and because I have been there before to try the famous Bulgogi Burger.

Having been to this McDonald’s before (and to other McDonald’s around the world), I was pretty familiar with the process so went straight to the first open register I saw. I ordered a #3 meal with Coke, that’s a Quarter Pounder with Cheese meal. I figured, what could be more American than a Quarter Pounder since the U.S. is about the only country in the world not on the Metric System? I was pleasantly surprised at the price of just ₩5000, though it comes with what is a “small” drink in the U.S. with no option to “super-size.” The order was quickly filled and placed on my tray with 1 catsup packet, 5 napkins and a sale advertisement.

South Korean Quarter Pounder with CheeseArriving at my seat, one of the first things I noticed was that the required space needed for my American body must be greater than that of the average Korean…but that’s a topic for another post. I opened my sandwich to find a protective sleeve like Big Macs in the U.S. use to come in. This kept my Quarter Pounder with Cheese nice and tidy. A quick perusal under the crown revealed the standard McDonald’s condiments for the Quarter Pounder. As I bit into the sandwich … (before I go on, you need to know that I ate at McDonald’s a lot back in the United States-a LOT. And my meal of choice was the Quarter Pounder with Cheese. Now, back to my review) … I was transported home. The texture, taste and satisfaction was the same, if not better, than what I would expect to find at any McDonald’s in the United States. My next taste was the french fries which were equally satisfying, if a bit less salty than in the U.S. Then the Coke which I’ve found to be the same about anywhere you go (except Mexico whose formula still includes real sugar instead of high-fructose corn syrup-those lucky Mexicans!).

Itaewon Seoul McDonald'sAfter completing my meal, I handed my tray with trash to the nice gentleman by the door who sorted the trash for recycling, then I left the Itaewon McDonald’s satisfied and convinced that just about anywhere you go, you’ll find McDonald’s quality and standards upheld, with the serendipitous benefit of local flavors added to the menu.

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70th Anniversary of V-J Day

V-J SigningVictory over Japan day has never been a big celebration for me during my life time, but it takes on new significance being in Korea. I have only seriously talked to a very few people here about their feeling towards Japan, but most still hold an animosity toward them lingering from the Japanese occupation during most of the first half of the 20th century-even some who weren’t even living at the time. It was our victory over Japan that won South Korea’s freedom from a very brutal and oppressive occupation that lasted most recently for over 35 years.

These feelings were prolonged by the lack of U.S. sensitivity to the Korean’s attitudes toward the Japanese occupation as the U.S. military leaders enlisted the help of some of the Japanese officials who had been in control in Korea, as well as Korean’s who were viewed as Japanese “puppets” or sympathizers, during U.S. assistance in Korea following the end of the war. It took several years following the defeat of Japan to really cleanse the Korean government of the last vestiges of the occupation.

Japanese-build building on YongsaRemnants of the Japanese occupation remain here on USAG Yongsan where I am stationed. Many of the older buildings were built by the Japanese to house their military and government infrastructure. While the insides have been sufficiently remodeled and updated, the exteriors remain pretty much as they were during the first half of the 20th century though most symbols and references to Japan, if ever prominent, have long since been removed from view. (A pretty good article about the remaining structures can be found here.)

So for most Americans 14 August will come and go without much thought to our Victory over Japan 70 years ago, but for many Koreans it represents liberation and freedom from decades of oppression.

What if North Korea Attacks?

As the Brigade Chaplain, I’m involved in much of the staff work and planning for the Brigade Commander. Recently, the staff has been working on plans for the brigade in the event of war on the Peninsula. Often, when this planning is done in units in the States, it is theoretical or long-term but here in South Korea, it’s real life and comes with a sense of urgency and reality.

North Korean Artillery FireIt is not a secret that North Korea has one of the largest artillery inventories in the world, much of it pointed at South Korea. The capital of South Korea, Seoul, is just 35 miles from the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) so is most vulnerable “with estimates of as many as 13,000 [North Korean] artillery pieces positioned along that border.”According to a South Korean security analyst quoted by GlobalSecurity.org, the North Koreans “could fire 10,000 rounds per minute to Seoul and its environs.” Which, based on some estimates, this “conventional artillery capability would allow North Korea to flatten Seoul in the first half-hour of any confrontation.”2

Much of the damage that would result from a first strike by North Korea would include significant loss of life and infrastructure to nearby U.S. And South Korean military bases. This doesn’t even take into consideration the North Korean use of uncoventional weapons. North Korea “… is armed with weapons of mass destruction — probably including nuclear weapons — and which, even more frighteningly, has developed a specific strategy for using them” against South Korea.3

According to Bruce W. Bennett, Senior Defense Analyst and professor at Pardee Rand Graduate School, North Korean strategy of attack looks something like this:

— Against South Korean and American battlefield forces, North Korea has emphasized artillery with chemical weapons, and built a huge arsenal of each.

— Against the nearby South Korean capital Seoul and ground force reserves behind the battlefield, North Korea has emphasized long-range artillery with chemical weapons, and special forces with biological weapons.

— Against rear area and off-peninsula targets, North Korea has emphasized ballistic missiles with chemical weapons and special forces with biological weapons, and the development of nuclear weapons.3

Grant it, it would not be long after an initial attack by North Korea that a formidable response was launched from U.S., South Korean and other militaries, but depending on the extent of that response, North Korea could still survive to launch another series of attacks.

The North Korean military has long understood that fortified bunkers are the key to survival in the face of superior enemy air power. There are thousands of hardened underground bunkers close to the front line, and North Korean artillery will carry out “shoot and scoot” attacks, emerging briefly to fire and withdrawing rapidly.4

According to a Rand Corporation Study referenced by PopularMechanics.com, it only takes about 75 seconds after firing, for North Korean artillery to be back under cover and protected from destruction. Ultimately, they would be found and destroyed, but a significant amount of damage and loss of life could be done in the mean time.

Technology can [possibly] help prevent the North Koreans from getting in a second shot. But there is not yet any solution to the thousands of shells and rockets they could launch with the first salvo on Seoul, and that remains one of the biggest concerns in an escalating conflict.4

United States Forces in Korea have plans in place for rapid evacuation of family members and non-essential United States citizens from the peninsula in the event of conflict, as well as issuing protective equipment for family members to protect against chemical and biological attacks. These plans provide some comfort to those living here, but in reality, if North Korea launches an attack from their close proximity, it’s not likely that any of those protective measures would be effective.

Kim Jong-unOne would hope that Kim Jong-un would have sense enough to not begin a military conflict that would very likely end with his -and his military’s- annihilation but based on his (and his predecessor’s) statements and reckless activities, that hope isn’t very secure. Since the signing of the armistice, there have been no fewer than 50 border “incidents” involving North Korea.However, even as seemingly crazy as Kim is, maybe self-preservation will breed restraint in North Korea, allowing the power Kim exerts over his own people to satisfy his craving and prevent him from striking out against his neighbors, who, by the way, long for reunification and lasting peace.

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1 http://www.popularmechanics.com/military/a6212/north-korea-and-flattening-seoul/

2 http://content.time.com/time/world/article/0,8599,446776,00.html

3 http://www.rand.org/blog/2003/03/n_-koreas-threat-to-s_-korea.html

4 http://www.popularmechanics.com/military/weapons/a6211/north-korea-conflict-weapons-available/

5 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_border_incidents_involving_North_Korea

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Photos

Artillery fire: A view of artillery fire and landing exercises guided by North Korean leader Kim Jong Un (not seen) in this undated photo released by North Korea’s Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) in Pyongyang February 21, 2015. (From http://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2015/02/25/asia-pacific/north-korea-100-nuclear-weapons-2020-u-s-researchers/)

Kim Jong-un with Generals: This photo is from a past DG article from the last time the North Koreans threatened an attack against the U.S., here sits the mighty Kim Jong Un surrounded by his generals making ingenious plans to destroy the U.S. — this was obviously a staged photo. Then if you zoom in above the general’s head (as NKNews.org points out) you can see a map of the US with lines coming into it (implying lines of attack). The text apparently reads “US Mainland Strike Plan” (which is not subtle). (From http://www.darkgovernment.com/news/north-korea-threatens-nuclear-missile-attack-on-u-s-again/)

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Office Space

I’ve finally about got my office set up for my stay in Korea. I’ve unpacked my books, arranged my furniture and desk and hung some pictures. It’s a good space. The Unit Ministry Team (Chaplain & Chaplain Assistant, and in Korea a KATUSA) actually has a suite because of the work that we do. There’s a comfortable place for a few people to sit, along with books and Bibles they can take with them. The chaplain assistant has an office while the KATUSA has a desk by the door, kind of like a “receptionist.” Then I have my office for work, study and counselling.  We try to make it an inviting place.

My office has a window which opens to a school. Most every day I hear the children out playing on the playground…sure, I won’t miss my kids! But it is actually nice to hear cheerful noises rather than what the military often offers!

Here are a few pictures:

Building 6000
Here’s our brigade headquarters from Google Maps. (I’m surprised I haven’t taken a picture of it yet!) It’s a big 6-story building that I heard use to be a jail though I don’t know if that’s true or not.
Building 6000
Our building has quite a view from the roof. Of course, this isn’t one of the good ones but of some of the post.
Brigade UMT office-meeting room
Here’s are “meeting room.” Very comfortable couches and lots of give-a-way books and Bibles. (That black office chair in the corner is trash, they just haven’t taken it out yet. Please overlook it!)
Brigade UMT Office-Chaplain Assistant
This is the chaplain assistant’s office, just as you walk in our door.
Brigade UMT office-KATUSA
Just inside our main door and to the left is our KATUSA’s desk. My office is just beyond.
Brigade UMT office-chaplain's desk
My office. The mess on the desk is evidence of a busy day!
Brigade UMT office-library
It’s nice to have a few of my books with me!
Brigade UMT office-seating
And, a place to sit with Soldiers and either visit or counsel. On the walls are pictures I had enlarged of worship and chaplain ministry during the Korean War.

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62nd Anniversary of the Korean War Armistice

Korean War Armistice
Signing of the Armistice on 27 July 1953 in Panmunjom.

I’m surprised I didn’t hear more about it, being in Korea, or maybe I just wasn’t listening in the right places, having a busy day but today is the 62nd anniversary of the signing of the armistice which was supposed to “insure a complete cessation of hostilities and of all acts of armed force in Korea until a final peaceful settlement is achieved.” I guess most of the acts of armed force have ceased, though there have been incidents of North Korean aggression which have caused loss of life over the years. However, there certainly hasn’t been much progress toward “a final peaceful settlement.” South Korea still longs for reunification, but as a free and democratic country. North Korea would rather just have a larger country to rule and ruin as they have the north half of the peninsula.

Peace exists in Korea but it is a fragile peace.

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Unaccompanied Baggage

Moving to a new location is never fun, especially when it’s on the other side of the world and by air. The amount of things I could bring with me is governed by Department of Defense (DoD) and Joint Federal Travel Regulations (JFTR), in addition to what I’m able to practically carry with me through the airports and on the planes. I decided on just two large suitcases and my carry-on, though the Army would have paid for 2 additional pieces of checked baggage. So I arrived to Korea with very little. When a Service Member, with or without their family, makes a move, what they carry with them is just a portion of what they can take. We’re also authorized a certain number of pounds of “unaccompanied baggage” (UB) which comes by air and a certain number of pounds of “household goods” (HG) which come by sea.

Since I was coming alone and planned to be in on-post quarters where overseas the furniture is provided, I opted not to move any household goods but did send some unaccompanied baggage. My UB consisted of the books from my library that I would need while I am here (more on my library later), sermon notes and outlines, my Army-issued gear (TA-50) along with uniforms, the civilian clothes that I want (both for free-time and worship services) and any other convenience and comfort items I may need to include linens, small appliances, etc.

Part of the weight we are permitted to ship includes what is called “Professional Books, Papers and Equipment” or “Pro-Gear” for short. So my TA-50, books used in the performance of my job, my chaplain kit and other professional items don’t count against my permitted weight, though the government is beginning to cut down on how much pro-gear is permitted. It use to be unlimited, which I really needed due to the size of my library. The regulations said that allowable pro-gear included what you may use in the performance of your duties in your next or future assignments. This move, I was told I could bring as pro-gear the books I would use on this assignment, but only ones that weren’t available online or digitally. Ouch! That’s going to hurt on my next move! Since this is a short and limited tour however, I was able to get by with less pro-gear, primarily fewer books.

Today was the day that my UB was delivered so I finally have more clothes (though wrinkled!), an iron, additional towels and linens and the quilt my wife made and sent to me during one of my previous deployments. So my quarters are finally starting to feel a little bit more like home, though prominently missing family…

Having just been delivered today, I haven’t been able to unpack and shelve my books yet, but I think that will be one of my leisure activities for Saturday. Working in my library also seems to put me in a better mood so it will be a good end to a busy week. Once I get unpacked I’ll post pictures of my office, to include my “deployment” library, so you can see what type of facilities I work and minister out of.

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