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Troops from the 38th Artillery Brigade do maintenance work at a hilltop radar installation in South Korea in 1968.
Troops from the 38th Artillery Brigade do maintenance work at a hilltop radar installation in South Korea in 1968. (T.W. Chung/Stars and Stripes)

OSAN AB, Korea — From cold, remote mountain tops reaching 4,000 feet above the Demilitarized Zone to the sharp, jagged hills below Kunsan, a U.S. Army brigade is standing guard over Korea.

The far-flung 38th Arty. Brigade, an air defense unit, along .with the ROK Army's 1st Air Defence Arty. Brigade which is stationed in the south and is under the operational control of the 38th, guards South Korea against enemy attack by air.

Should enemy planes intrude on South Korean air space, the 38th not only could but would blast the aircraft from the skies, says Brig. Gen. John W. Dean Jr., commanding general of the air defense brigade.

Like Dean, the officers of the brigade express confidence in the ability of their Hawk and Nike-Hercules missiles to rip enemy planes out of the air, and the annual practice firing by U.S. batteries in Korea have left 38th officers beaming.

"At Sea Range this fall," states 1st Lt. B,J. Morris, commander of Battery A, 7th Bn. (HAWK), 2nd Arty., "we fired two missiles and killed two drones (self-propelled missile targets)."

CWO Donald R. Gay, fire control maintenance officer for Battery F, 4th Bn. (HERC), 44th Arty., echoed this confidence: "We fired our Nike missile at Sea Range with pin-point accuracy and had the highest score in the battalion. Although it's not necessary to hit the target directly with the Nike missile, we intend to cut the aircraft in half when we fire."

The men of the brigade also say their ground-to-air missiles are quite capable of defending the many airways into South Korea. Most of the soldiers had air defense training at Ft. Bliss, Tex., while others have received operational training on the sites in Korea.

"The men work hard and do a fine job," says Dean. "We're on operational status 24 hours a day. It keeps us pretty well on our toes."

The soldiers spend 24 hours on site and 24 hours in the administrative area lower on the mountain. During their 24-hour shifts on the site, they maintain the missiles, equipment, and site, a constant task, and man their radar scopes watching for unidentified planes, Gay explains

They must be ready to launch missiles in minutes should planes threaten Seoul, Osan AB or any of the military targets in South Korea.

During the 24-hour shifts when the men are away from the missile sites, they sleep, attend training, pull details, and about every fourth night get a pass, according to 1st Sgt. Roy Dubroc of Battery F.

Perhaps the biggest problem the brigade faces is the isolation of its widely dispersed units, the officers say.

At most of the sites, the men are too isolated to go into a city on pass.

"Being in isolated locations does two good things for our units," Dean believes. "First, it gives the men something to gripe about, and, second, it helps the units become more cohesive and work together as a team."

The main attraction on the mountain tops at night is television, and the men say the reception is top notch at the high altitudes. Checker boards abound, and card games also help consume lonely nights of duty.

A visiting general to Battery F east of Inchon inquired about the "strange lines" on the helicopter pad located on top of the mountain, relates Gay. "That's a volleyball court," the visitor was told. "There's a barbecue pit behind the ready room," Gay adds.

Dean notes that the men of the 38th appreciate the small bits of civilization which do reach them. "The men all know the exact day and hour when the Red Cross girls arrive at their battery."

When soldiers of the 38th are not on duty at their missile sites, they live in the administration area usually located at the foot of the mountain. Their compounds include a company-sized PX, a recreation room, a club and movies five nights a week.

Though the men may appear to be on top of the world while on duty at their mountain sites, they admit the spectacular scenery fades when the temperature falls. Normally, mountain top .temperatures are at least 15 degrees lower than down below, and some sites have recorded temperatures as low as minus 30 degrees.

The Hawk missile sites have Korean guards, as well as the U.S. soldiers.

The security for the Nike sites is entirely provided by American troops.

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