It’s the 4th of July, Independence Day for the United States of America. Here in Korea, you wouldn’t know it from any other day (unless, of course, you’re on a U.S. military installation). But with the benefit of the Internet, there’s no escaping it…though personally I wouldn’t want to. I celebrate with millions of other Americans our hard-won independence from Great Britain 240 years ago.
Much of what I’m seeing in my Facebook feed, however, is not a positive response to it being the 4th of July. I’m not judging, but from where I sit, many of those posters seem to be speaking from their holier-than-thou ivory towers to us lowly patriotic souls who are in need of their superior spiritual insight and understanding of the mind of God. Let me explain:
First, they condemn our fight for independence as contrary to the scriptural mandate to be obedient to the powers in place over us as being instituted by God. They view the situation on the American continent of the 18th century through 21st century glasses, presuming to understand the situation our political forefathers and mothers experienced better than those who were living it.
Wherever a chaplain is assigned, in addition to his/her assigned duties, they are expected to also be involved in religious support to the garrison where they’re located. Often this means being part of one of the on-post worship services. This has been the case for me while in Yongsan, South Korea. I have been the pastor of the Traditional Protestant Congregation who worshiped at Memorial Chapel on Main Post, for the year that I’ve been in Korea.
I’ve mentioned before about the movement of U.S. forces from all over Korea to USAG Humphreys near Pyeongtek. This is beginning to impact religious support at USGA Yongsan as there are fewer chaplains to support the multiple worship services. Today (26 June 2016), this impact became real for the congregation I have been pastoring as we celebrated the final service of this congregation which has been active in Yongsan for over 25 years. Beginning next week, the attendees will begin attending one of the other remaining services on post.
Here are a few pictures of the final service and the fellowship brunch we enjoyed together at Greenstreet at Dragon Hill Lodge following the service.
After the service we went to one of the restaurants at the Dragon Hill Lodge on post (Greenstreet) and enjoyed the Brunch Buffet:
Here are some other pictures of Memorial Chapel where the Traditional Protestant Congregation has worshiped for over 25 years:
Here’s a short video showing the sanctuary changing from Catholic to Protestant worship
As a chaplain, when I visit a new post, the first things I like to visit are the chapels, followed by chaplain’s offices and work areas, then memorials and cemeteries, finally historical points of interest…that is, of course, after I visit my chaplains or accomplish the mission I’m there for. I state that first, to explain why the majority of pictures I’m going to share in this post are of those things.
Camp Humphreys or United States Army Garrison (USAG) Humphreys, is a U.S. Army post near Pyeongtaek, beside Anjeong-ri. Humphreys is about 55 miles Southwest of Seoul (at least an hour and a half drive depending on traffic). What is now Camp Humphreys began as Pyeongteak Airfield in 1919 by the Japanese during their occupation of Korea. The Air Force rebuilt it during the Korean War and renamed it K-6, then in 1962 it was renamed Camp Humphreys in honor of CW2 Benjamin K. Humphreys of the 6th Transporation Company (Light Helicopter). Humphreys was killed in a helicopter accident on 13 November 1961 near Osan-Ni, Kyung-Gi Do, Korea. Camp Humphreys is home to Desiderio Army Airfield, said to be the busiest Army airfield in Asia.
Camp Humphreys is rapidly growing since it has been chosen as the new home for most of the nearly 30,000 U.S. Army troops in South Korea to include the headquarters of United States Forces Korea (USFK). By the time the move is complete, Camp Humphreys will spread over 3500 acres.
When building is complete, there will be a total of four chapels on Camp Humphreys. Here is a look at what’s been built so far and what is coming:
Beacon Hill Park
Beacon Hill Park sits on a hill and covers about 42,900 square meters. It includes several picnic pavilions, a disc golf course, the USAG Humphreys Memorial Park and trails and walkways through a wooded area. Beacon Hill is also a protected area, having “potential buried cultural resources” from after the Goryeo Dynasty (918-1392). According to the sign on the hill:
The Beacon Hill area shall be preserved due to the presence of buried cultural resources. Several artifacts, such as a piece of bluish-gray celadon and a piece of white celadon, were detected at the ground surface. Also, many historical graves were scattered throughout an area 42,900 square meters (m2). Other cultural resources may be buried within the area that have so far [not] been unearthed. Developing the area should be minimized as much as possible…
Even with over 3500 acres, space is at a premium as they build sufficient infrastructure and headquarters for the influx of troops and family members to Camp Humphreys. Many areas resemble the cities of Korea with high rise buildings and large above and below ground parking garages. Here are a few pictures of some of the buildings being built or already occupied on Camp Humphreys.
As mentioned above, Desiderio Army Airfield is the busiest Army airfield in Asia. Here are a few unclassified pictures of Army aircraft.
Here’s a video produced by USAG Humphreys which shows much of Camp Humphreys from the air:
There is still a lot of building taking place on Camp Humphreys, as well as in Pyeongtaek, which will provide more for Soldiers and families to do and make life both comfortable and enjoyable. Additionally, a fast-train line is being added to Pyeongtaek which will make travel to Seoul a lot quicker, providing even better access to more of what Korea has to offer.
It will be interesting to see Camp Humphreys in a few years when the transformation is complete.
An Army tradition that nearly every officer and NCO is familiar with is the “Hail & Farewell.” Hail & Farewells” are informal gatherings, often at a restaurant, where Soldiers new to the unit are hailed and Soldiers departing the unit are farewelled. Along with food, Hail and Farewells often include games of sorts or other fun activities. Units usually do them regularly, spaced to ensure everyone is hailed and/or farewelled as they come or before they go.
At most posts, installation Unit Ministry Teams (UMT) also have regular Hail & Farewells for Chaplains and Chaplain Assistants (and their families). Occasionally, brigade UMTs also have Hail & Farewells, though they’re needed less often.
My brigade has two chaplains, a KATUSA and myself preparing to leave so we had a BDE UMT Hail & Farewell. We wanted to include the families, but didn’t want it to be a stressful time for the parents, so reserved a picnic pavillion by the “Super Gym” at Camp Humphreys. Here are some pictures of our time together:
Video Teleconferencing (VTC) is how meetings take place when the attendees aren’t located in the same town. In the case of my command, the units are spread all over the world so in addition to holding meetings via VTC, they’re also spread all over the clock. For the meetings to take place during normal business hours where the headquarters is, they have to take place either very early or very late in some parts of the world where we dial in from.
We had one of those VTCs tonight. For it to take place at 0700 where the command is (they did come in a bit early) it had to take place at 2000 here in Korea. That’s not too late, but when you figure on a two-hour meeting, it begins to get late.
Complicating the distance and time are the occasional technical problems which occur from time to time, which happened tonight. I was pulled into the VTC about 35 minutes late and my battalions down at Camp Humphreys didn’t get pulled in at all so I and my battalion chaplains connected telephonically, even though they weren’t on the VTC. Since they weren’t on the VTC, I texted them a picture and they sent me back this one, clearly excited to be there (or excited they were excluded from the VTC!):
Of course, I had to send one back:
So even with the VTC complications, we still had a good time -from a distance- while benefiting from hearing from our higher-headquarters chaplain team. Hopefully the next VTC will have fewer technical difficulties…or maybe it’s the technical difficulties that make them more fun!
Wherever you go in the military, a tradition that you experience is the military ball. Often annually, sometimes before or on return from deployment; units, schools and commands take the opportunity to celebrate the accomplishment of their mission, their safe return from combat, or continued alliances with coalition partners.
Tonight, my brigade sponsored the ball for the Intelligence community in South Korea, with guests and participants from both U.S. and ROK forces. With over 700 in attendance it was quite the event. As with most ceremonies and events, as the brigade chaplain I was called upon to pray…twice. Here are some pictures from the evening (though a combination of the lighting and using my phone/camera mean they’re not that great):
Ceremony prayers aren’t that exciting since people don’t come for the prayers, but here are the two I prayed at the MI Ball tonight:
First, the Invocation:
Dear Gracious Heavenly Father,
I thank you for this day you have given us and for this occasion that we gather together to celebrate the alliance which exists between the United States and the Republic of Korea, particularly tonight- in the Intelligence community.
We realize that it is our ability to work together that preserves the armistice and protects the freedom and independence of our friends.
I thank you for all of those involved in this task before us, from the newest private to the most experienced officer, and pray for each of them that they will be protected as they perform their duties but also that they will be blessed because of the significance of our mission.
I pray now that you will be with us tonight as we celebrate the successful, continued, execution of our mission and the alliance we enjoy with each other. Bless this time with your presence and bless each one here gathered.
In your holy name I pray, Amen.
Then the Benediction or closing prayer:
Thank you for this time that we’ve had together: The honors, the entertainment, the laughs, and the good food.
Thank you again for all of those here, and all the others who are serving both in uniform and as civilians, in the defense of freedom in the Republic of Korea and around the world.
Thank you also for your presence with us here this evening so far, and as we continue to celebrate. I pray that you will continue to be with us, both those here and those traveling home.
Finally, Lord, I pray that you will provide safety tonight and in the days ahead. And I pray that you will especially bless the Republic of Korea and the United States of America as we live and serve together.
Hail and Farewell gatherings are a long-standing tradition in the military to welcome Soldiers just coming into the unit and say “farewell” to those who are leaving. The Army doesn’t have a prescribed ceremony or format for Hail and Farewells, it is up to each unit to decide how often to have them and what they will be composed of.
The brigade I am leaving tried to have them every other month or so, so there was never too many being hailed or farewelled. Coming up on PCS season, however, there are a lot more changes, so they started farewelling people farther away from their actual departure than normally would be done. I was farewelled a full three months before I was scheduled to leave!
This Hail and Farewell was held at a massive buffet that had a variety of Korean, Chinese, Western and all sorts of types of food to include breads, fruits and desserts. There was too much to chose from, but it all looked good. Of course, one of the criteria for picking the location is that they have a meeting room so that we can be separated from the rest of the restaurant guests.
Occasionally Unit Ministry Teams offer events to help Soldiers develop personally, professionally and spiritually. Our brigade UMT offered one such event today. We named it, “Soldier and KATUSA Spiritual Development Day.” Our plan was to have U.S. and Korean veterans from the Korean War to speak to our Soldiers, and I would provide a presentation on “Behaving Valiantly in War and Peace.” We would round out the day with a movie that explains the Korean experience, “Ode to My Father,” with lunch provided, of course.
MAJ Kim, the ROK Army officer in charge of our KATUSAs, introduced our guest speaker, MG Joon Hyung Ryu, with these comments (edited only for better translation):
The guest today is MG (Retired) Ryu, Joon Hyung who participated in both the Korean and Vietnam Wars and served as the Deputy Commander of ROK-US Field Command.
The Korean War refers to the 3 year war which started when North Korea invaded ROK at 0400 on June 25th with the support of the Soviet Union and lasted 1,129 days until both sides agreed to a truce at 1000 on July 27, 1953.
It was a tragic and fierce war that almost two million Soldiers among 26 nations took part in on this small peninsula. There were 620,000 ROKA, 160,ooo U.N., 930,000 North Korean, 1,000,000 Chinese, and 2,500,000 civilian casualties and also resulted in 10,000,000 separated family members, more than half of the 30,000,000 North and South Koreans.
Even now, the Korean Peninsula suffers from division after over 60 years.
MG Ryu was commissioned as a 1LT in November 1950 and is a war hero who stood up and defended Hill #854 on the eastern front line in Injaegoon, Gangwon Province from the final attack of the Chinese and North Korean armies. This battle is called the Battle of Ssangyong Highland.
MG Ryu was the first Korean to graduate from the U.S. Army Infantry Airborne School in 1957 and on 1 April 1958, he became the main founding member of the 1st Airborne Brigade which is now the Special Operations Command.
After that, he was deployed to the Vietnam War and distinguished himself serving on the command staff of various main units.
In 1980 he worked as the Commanding General of the 8th Infantry Division then in 1982, became the Deputy Commander of the ROK-US Field Command. In 1985 he retired as a Major General.
After retirement, he actively worked as the Chairman of the Korean Parachute Association and Defense Industry Association. Now he is the Chairman of the Patriot Lee Dong Hwi Memorial Organization who was head of the Military Ministry and the first Prime Minister.
I introduce to you ROK war hero, MG Ryu.
MG Ryu presented a history of Korea-International relations, highlighting relations with the United States and the significance and necessity of the Korean-U.S alliance. It was great to hear about history from one who was part of that history.
Coincidentally, the INSCOM Chaplain was visiting Korea so was in attendance and added to MG Ryu’s presentation, tying in the importance of what we, as U.S. Soldiers, do here in Korea and how even we are in the midst of making history as we preserve the peace and defend freedom on the Korean Peninsula.
Next, MAJ Kim also introduced the film, “Ode to My Father” with these comments:
The film you are going to see today is a Korean movie named “Ode to My Father,” or literally translated from the Korean, “International Marketplace.” It is a film about Korean fathers after the Korean War of the 1950s.
After the war, many people lost everything and some families were separated forever.
This movie depicts the heartbreaking story about fathers who had to travel to West Germany coal mine and sacrifice their lives in the Vietnam War just to rebuild the nation of Korea and protect their families.
My own mother was an only daughter of an affluent family in North Korea and was a refugee who fled from the Chinese Army’s invasion of ROK in a U.S. transportation ship. She is one of 10 million separated families due to the war.
The story of the movie is more than a random family’s history, it is a people’s history of overcoming [adversity] that all of ROK citizens had to suffer.
I hope this film will be a better opportunity to understand Korea and the Korean people.
We provided lunch from Subway (which is always a treat) and showed the film which is the story of a family who was separated during the evacuation of North Korea as China was invading from the North.
Since the Armistice Agreement was signed on 27 July 1953, the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) running for 160 miles roughly along the 38th parallel from the East Sea to the Yellow Sea, has been one of the most unusual places on earth. Less than 35 miles from Seoul, the capital of the Republic of Korea (South Korea), the 2 1/2 mile wide DMZ is centered on the Military Demarcation Line (MDL), the political border, the violation of which could get you shot.
Despite the name which seems to indicate a lesser degree of militarization, the DMZ is extremely militarized with the North and South facing off eyeball to eyeball as though the war which preceded the armistice is just paused. The agreement, however, prevents either side from introducing large weapons or large numbers of troops within the DMZ, which acts as a buffer zone between the two belligerent nations, who, ironically, do not recognize each other as legitimate governments.
My visit to the DMZ was to the area known as the Joint Security Area which originally was jointly governed by North and South Korea, but after soldiers from North Korea killed 2 American officers and 4 South Korean Soldiers with axes the U.N. Soldiers were using to remove limbs from a tree which was blocking visibility between guard posts in August 1976, the MDL was established, separating the two and leaving the only area of responsibility that overlap being Panmunjeom. Panmunjeom is an 800 meter area which is most famously home to the building where the armistice was signed.
The battalion tasked with security of the area around the JSA, formally known as the United Nations Command Security Battalion, operates under the Armistice Agreement, reporting directly to United Nations Command. the UNCSB is one of the few purely joint-nation battalions composed of approximately 10% U.S. Soldiers and 90% ROK Soldiers. Together, they are responsible for monitoring the area around the JSA, protecting visitors to the area and those who work in the zone, and executing the education mission (which includes tours of the significant sites around the DMZ).
North Korea has always been antaginistic toward the South and countries allied to them. For years, plans have been in the works to re-invade the South. In 1978, as a result of information received from a North Korean defector, a third infiltration tunnel was discovered. This tunnel is about a mile long and about 6 1/2 feet in diameter. Had this tunnel been used by the North for an invasion, 30,000 soldiers per hour could have traveled through it. It is said that there still could be 20 tunnels running under the DMZ which are yet to be discovered.
Near the DMZ in Peju on Mt. Dora is the Dora Observatory where onlookers can view several sites in North Korea. There are tourist binaculars available, but to take a photograph toward the North, you have to stand behind a line well behind those binaculars. Without recording what you see, you get a great view of North Korea from this observatory, though I did take a few pictures before I was told we couldn’t.
In 1953, following the signing of the Armistice Agreement, prisoners of war (POW) were exchanged over what became know as the “Bridge of No Return,” so named because once a POW returned to the North, they would not be permitted to come back to the South.
In 1976, a group of United Nations Soldiers were trimming limbs from a large tree in the DMZ which was blocking the line of site between two guard posts when they were attacked by a group of North Korean soldiers. 2 U.S. officers and 4 South Korean Soldiers were killed. Today, there is a monument near where the attack took place which was near the Bridge of No Return.
Most of the time, higher headquarters are located near their subordinate units. Sometimes, however, higher headquarters are more distant, like here in Korea, my higher headquarters are located near Washington D.C. Also, usually there is a clear chain of command to those higher headquarters, but sometimes there are dotted lines of command as well as multiple chains. That is the case with my brigade and the subordinate battalions. Being in Korea, we have “dotted-line” chains of command to 8th Army and U.S. Forces Korea and in the event of resumed hostilities in Korea, Combined Forces Command. With all of the organic and “dotted-line” chains of commands and technical/supervisory chains, there is the potential of many different VIPs coming to Korea.
This week, one of my battalions had such a visit. This battalion is muddled with solid and dotted lines and a Chaplain (Colonel) from one of their higher commands visited the battalion and its chaplain. Adding to the “muddle” is that this chaplain is in a joint billet, so is an Air Force chaplain, visiting an Army battalion.
One of the things that this chaplain did while in Korea was present a “safeTALK” which is a half-day of training on suicide prevention, awareness and intervention. There were 30 or so Soldiers present for this training which helps them identify Soldiers in crisis and intervene to prevent suicide.
Since this Chaplain (Colonel) came from the U.S., the battalion chaplain did much of the coordination for his visit and for the class, so she was honored with the presentation of the visiting chaplain’s coin of excellence which is always a thrill to receive.
After the safeTALK presentation and before the visiting chaplain continued his visit with site tours and office calls, we went to lunch in “The Ville” at a nice South African restaurant called Braai Republic. With us were a couple of gentlemen who are civilian contractors in the same organization as the visiting chaplain, and a clinical psychologist in a related organization. It’s always great to visit with other chaplains, especially senior chaplains, and pick their brain to learn from them and their experiences. We had a good time of conversation while waiting for, and eating, our meal.
After lunch, it was rush back to post for him to continue his visit at the battalion before he moved on to Osan Air Base then to Japan before returning to the U.S.