For Marines at Korean outpost, a holiday to remember
PYONGTAEK, South Korea — If the Marines at remote, austere Camp Mu Juk in South Korea have their way, the Christmas dinner and dance they’re preparing is one Marines and sailors based there may recall for decades.
The holiday bash — dinner for nearly 100 people and a big party after, followed by “a Ninety-Six” — a 96-hour liberty giving the troops a four-day holiday break — is set to begin Thursday at the base.
Mu Juk is an 84-acre logistics base set among the rice fields of Ochon, a town about 20 minutes from the east coast seaport and steel-making center of Pohang.
“It’s the talk of the camp right now,” Lance Cpl. Rey Ramirez, 21, of Dallas, said Thursday. “Everybody’s getting excited about it. There’s gonna be a lot of friends from out in town, a big social get-together.”
Among the invited guests are local women the Marines have gotten to know.
“Some of the local girls that we talk to out at … some of the local clubs” in Pohang are invited, said Sgt. Joseph Kast, Mu Juk’s galley captain and the Marine helping coordinate the night’s events.
“It’s not every day that we get a special dinner like this,” said Ramirez. “So it’s a special occasion. And everybody likes food, so, lots of good food, lots of good people hangin’ out.”
To make the dinner happen, the Mu Juk galley isn’t skimping on food: two 27-pound turkeys (“That’s really big for a turkey,” Kast said), 20 pounds of ham, 50 pounds of prime rib, 18 pounds of sweet potatoes, six pounds of cranberry sauce and gallons of chocolate and vanilla ice cream.
“We will be making roughly around 200 dinner rolls,” said Kast. “The rest of the stuff is pretty easy to make, like the mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, cranberry sauce.”
Stationed at Mu Juk are 34 Marines and 23 Navy Seabees. The Marines are with the 9th Engineer Support Battalion, part of the 3rd Field Service Support Group; the Seabees, with Naval Mobile Construction Battalion 40, Detail Pohang.
Besides the local female friends, invited guests include the Ochon mayor and police chief, a group of Koreans who meet the Marines weekly for an exchange of language classes, and six sergeants major from the South Korean Marine Corps, Kast said.
Dinner starts at 5 p.m. at Mu Juk’s ROK Hard Café, a one- story popular hangout on the rough-hewn, out-of-the-way base operated by two Korean businessmen. The party is set for around 6:30 p.m., said Kast.
“It’s a club-style atmosphere, speakers on the walls. We’ll probably have our own DJ,” he said. “There will be music, movies, dancing, a lot of socializing with everybody.” And a servicemember dressed as Santa Claus will pass out “Secret Santa” gifts, Kast said.
It’ll be a chance for the Mu Juk Marines to get to know the group of Seabees who recently rotated in for their Mu Juk tour, he said.
“It helps the Marines and the new group of Seabees to get to know each other on a personal basis instead of on a work basis,” said Kast.
And it helps foster friendly ties with the Korean community.
“When we invite them onto our base to show them a good time, it’s a sign of friendship,” Kast said.
Holding the dinner and party is especially important at the Christmas holiday given Mu Juk’s rugged living conditions and rural location, said Marine Capt. Anthony Robinson, the base’s officer in charge.
“The morale here is extremely high in spite of the austere conditions,” Robinson said. However, he said, “Because of the conditions, you have to have an outlet … You need to basically forget about what you don’t have and be thankful for what you do.”
Ramirez echoed that sentiment, saying: “You know, bein’ out here alone and away from your families, you start to miss all that Christmas fun and cheer. So this dinner’s going to be a big morale boost. It’s going to make it seem like home again, even though you’re not there.”