U.S. soldiers calm despite DMZ shootout
CAMP RED CLOUD, South Korea — The 2nd Infantry Division has not increased its alert status following Thursday’s shootout in the Demilitarized Zone between North and South Korean soldiers, but some soldiers’ families are concerned.
“The division is always on a high state of alert,” said Maj. Tamara Parker, division public affairs officer.
According to a spokesman with South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff, North Korean soldiers fired four machine-gun shots southward at about 6:10 a.m. Thursday. South Korean soldiers, who were not injured, let loose 17 rounds a minute later.
No U.S. soldiers were involved in the incident, and only a small number of U.S. soldiers — under a United Nations flagged battalion — still patrol the DMZ near Panmunjom. However, many 2nd Infantry Division units train and are stationed just south of the DMZ.
U.S. and South Korean officials agreed in June to move the division south of the Han River in the future. South Korean lawmakers have criticized those plans, saying U.S. forces are needed close to the border while North Korea pursues nuclear weapons. No timetable for the move has been announced.
U.S. soldiers interviewed Friday weren’t overly concerned about Thursday’s incident, although many of their family members were.
Sgt. 1st Class Kenneth Stafford was in the field Thursday when the shootout occurred. His mother, Rita Stafford of Fort Worth, Texas, called just five hours after the shots were fired. He didn’t even know of the incident at the time.
“She called me and she said, ‘How is everything going?’” said Stafford, 38, who is serving his third tour in South Korea. “I said, ‘Everything is fine.’ She said, ‘No, how is everything going today?’ I was like, ‘Everything is fine.’
“She was kind of letting me know that something was going on. She said, ‘Somebody said on the news about machine-gun fire between North and South Korea. I said, ‘Well, it can’t be that bad because I haven’t heard about it.’”
2nd ID soldiers “are supposed be on our guard at all times,” Stafford said. “It really didn’t concern me a lot considering everything else that everybody is going through in the world today.”
Although most soldiers only stay in Korea for a yearlong tour, Spc. Kenny Allen has spent three years here as a ground surveillance systems operator with the 102nd Military Intelligence Battalion at Camp Essayons. He’s spent time working near the Joint Security Area inside the DMZ, the shared border camp where the armistice was signed 50 years ago this month.
Allen said he doesn’t think the shootout will lead to war, although isolated incidents like it are not uncommon.
“I think it’s going to continue to happen,” Allen said. “On occasion, the news will get a hold of it and they’ll put it out there. It doesn’t bother me.”
Other soldiers said their family members have contacted them over the last days asking what’s going on.
“My mom called me,” said Pvt. Kat McBane, 22, whose mother, Timi, called from Sonora, Calif. “My mom said, ‘Are you guys going to war with North Korea?’ She asked ‘Do they always do that or is this just like a freak occurrence?’
“I was like, ‘No, Mom, everything is fine. It happens a lot. There were no American soldiers involved,’” McBane said.
A shocked Pfc. Jason Kaylor saw the news on CNN. “I heard it, and I thought like ‘Oh great, we are going to go to war.’”
His wife, Kristen, called that night from Sacramento, Calif. He told her to calm down and that everything was fine.
Spc. Linda Gatlin, 21, said she didn’t overreact to the news.
“I was OK with it,” Gatlin said. “Unless I get official word from someone telling me we are at war, I’m pretty much OK with anything. I’m not going to freak myself out.”
Added McBane: “It’s kind of sad to say, but I am glad there were no Americans involved because America seems to overact to anything. You know if there was a servicemember involved, then all of the sudden everybody in America would freak out.”
Parker said the division is continuing this week with regular rotational training. The 1st Battalion, 72nd Armor Regiment was in the field this week along with Black Hawk helicopter units doing door gunnery qualification training, she said.
“Everyone is always in a state of training,” Parker said. “Training never stops in 2ID.”