South Korea: The duty station of choice?
Special to Stars and Stripes March 9, 2023
An unspoken “rite of passage” takes place when a soldier receives orders to South Korea. PCS time comes and the hourslong flight to spend a rotation on the Peninsula leaves the mind to wander. As you watch the flight tracker on the Patriot Express flight, you can see the duty station of choice is quickly encroaching. Generations of American soldiers have occupied this country in support of the Republic of Korea. We reflect back on the distant generation that fought the “Forgotten War” from 1950-1953. We remember those who lost their lives defending South Koreans in order to keep their freedom and repel communism. We will forever have a bond with South Korea, but does the military industrial complex need to keep pushing taxpayers’ dollars into this vein? Can’t South Korea sustain and protect itself now?
Located 60 miles from the North Korean border, there are about 40-something-thousand Americans that live, breathe and work at the installation of U.S. Army Garrison Camp Humphreys. This is where majority of military bases have been consolidated on the Peninsula over the past couple of decades. As a current resident of Camp Humphreys, I feel the effects of everything happening in America (inflation, political climate, etc.) on a compounded level due to most of our goods being flown in or shipped from the States. All while simultaneously feeling the existential threat of corrupt regimes circling the wagons on our small circle of freedom in East Asia.
To say the least, living with the people you love so close to the enemy is eerie. Its unsettling and it feels barbaric in a sense. Having so much uncertainty around the place in which you and the Army chose to have your family would place any adult on a 24/7 anxiety train.
The missile launches from North Korea have increased as the U.S. military has continued joint-training exercises with the Republic of Korea across South Korea and Japan. The incentive to have a stronghold for U.S. military forces in South Korea is huge. Camp Humphreys is the largest OCONUS installation that the U.S. Army owns and is located within one of the only westernized Asian countries. This keeps a foot in the West for the U.S. all while keeping communism at bay. For now, that is.
This places a large, circular, red, and white target on the Americans who reside on and near this installation. Knowing that your family is so close to a potential war zone and an unfinished war with an armistice alike takes its toll, but at what cost? This past year, the Army took hazardous duty pay away from soldiers at Camp Humphreys, but it remained for those who are stationed at the actual DMZ.
Korea was the seventh out of eight duty station choices for my wife and I. We wanted to finally start our family and progress our lives forward. Naturally, the Army had other plans. It clearly wasn’t our first choice but getting rotated through South Korea is a “rite of passage,” right? When the orders came down upon my wife, we did what most military families do, stayed resilient. We remained positive about the situation and researched about how exciting this new change of pace would be. There is absolutely no doubt that PCS’ing across the Pacific and living in Asia is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
Although the world has immensely progressed forward, North Korea has seemingly not. Furthermore, tensions in Asia are steadily increasing and time will be the only indicator of how this plays out. With that being said, military families should keep the relations between the U.S., South Korea and the North at the forefront of their minds before accepting a command sponsored tour in Asia.
From both my wife and I’s family -- our grandfathers, fathers, and brothers were all stationed in South Korea at one point or another -- we’re all grateful to have that shared experience with such an honorable organization. Lastly, we remember the sacrifices that were made on this peninsula, and we honor them. As it has been said in Korea across many generations, “Katchi Kapshida!” or “We Go Together!”
Dillon Clemence is a Texas Army National Guard veteran and executive board member for Humphreys United. He resides at U.S. Army Garrison Camp Humphreys, South Korea, with his active-duty wife and their daughter.