‘Pirate Siege’ on S. Korea’s Imjin River
November 21, 2004
IMJIN RIVER, South Korea — They don’t wear eye patches, carry parrots on their shoulders or hunt for buried treasure, but the Pirates of the Imjin proudly fly the black skull and crossbones flag whenever they take to the water.
On Friday, the Pirates, soldiers from the 50th Engineer Company, trained on the Imjin, close to the Demilitarized Zone separating North and South Korea.
The exercise, dubbed “Pirate Siege,” was to have involved Chinook helicopters airlifting sections of floating bridge into the river to be assembled by the company’s boat crews. However, when it came time to launch the bays, the river was shrouded in thick mist, with visibility only a few hundred feet.
That meant the helicopters were grounded and all the bays had to be launched from the shore.
Sgt. 1st Class James Hays, 37, of Spring Valley, Calif., welcomed the fog as he helped supervise the bridge-building operation.
“In our battle mission, we are sometimes forced to work in smoke. Because it is harder for us to see, it also is harder for the enemy to see. We have got natural smoke because of the fog. It’s great training,” he said, peering through the gloom to watch a section of bridge float into the river.
Fog slows the bridge building a bit, he said.
“In environments of limited visibility such as fog or darkness, you’re supposed to add 50 percent to your build time. For a normal six-float raft it takes 20 minutes, but with smoke or fog it should take 30 minutes,” he said.
The bridge company used to train on the Imjin more often than they do nowadays, Hays said.
From 1972 to 1993, the 50th was at Camp Garry Owen, near the DMZ. Now the company is based further south at Camp La Guardia in Uijongbu.
“When the company was formed we were closer to the DMZ than where we are now. This year we have trained here (on the Imjin) several times but been to the Han (River) more frequently. We try to go to the Han more often because it is closer and easier to get to,” Hays said.
The main difference between the two rivers is that the Imjin has more obstacles, such as subsurface rocks.
“You have to be careful when launching the bays. You damage more equipment up here than you would at the Han because of the shallower water. The Han (which runs through Seoul) is pretty glorifying but up here it is more like a real combat operation,” Hays said.
Conditions at the Imjin training site improved recently when the Republic of Korea (ROK) Army dumped tons of sand on either side, meaning there are less rocks likely to damage equipment, he added.
Another soldier involved in the training, Sgt. William Bergman, 26, of Fresno, Calif., was responsible for launching the bridge sections into the river as part of the shore crew. The soldier had to direct traffic, prevent trucks from getting bogged in the shallows and make sure bridge bays opened once they hit the water.
“It is a non-highlight job, but one of the most important,” he said.
“With all the vehicles and equipment you have to be in control of and the amount of people you have, it can become very hectic. If the build doesn’t go well, normally the shore crew get blamed so there is a lot of pressure,” Bergman said.
50th Engineer commander Capt. David Stewart, 30, of New Brunswick, N.J., said he enjoyed training on the Imjin. There are fish in the river and many South Korean civilians visit the area to fish, he said.
“That is another challenge to watch out for — civilians in the training area,” he said.
In a war situation, the 50th would support the 2nd Infantry Division and the ROK Army, a mission that could potentially involve crossing the Imjin, Stewart said.