Night Shift

(President Chon Tu Hwan of the Republic of Korea)

As you well know, there is more talk about nuclear weapons than in a long time. DC is not in range, according to what they are reporting, but apparently the little fat guy thinks he can hit Guam, which makes this all personal.

So, I was thinking back to my time as a nuclear warrior, something a lot of folks have no experience with these days. In order to get to the Indications and Warning Watch at US forces Korea, HQ 8th US Army, and the United Nations, it was useful to understand how this all worked. My first fleet tour, which I can neither confirm nor deny, might have featured some movement of what my pal Roger might have called “shapes,” and some other sort of weird stuff accompanied by Marines who were authorized the use of deadly force in the event anything made them uneasy.

I like those rules of engagement. It made everyone really polite.

Not a bad system, in my opinion, if it existed, that is.

It was 1980. I was working in Seoul, ROK, in an attempt by Washington to get my two-year tour on Midway to line up my my cohort of young officers who had three-year tours on the showboats from the West Coast.

I think the experience made me a better person, but it was sort of like living in Detroit, where the riots of 1967 and 1968 made you understand in a visceral manner that the world can be a very strange place. More so if you added the science fiction scenario that there might be an existential threat that the Ontarioans in Windsor were going to send special operations forces across the Detroit River to kill us all.

Anyway, I listened to my favorite cuts from Roxy Music and Bob Seeger before leaving the Quonset hut where I lived on South Post to the North and passing through the Brit detachment’s Ghurka guards around the compound without having my throat slit by one of their big scary knives. Then I walked down the long concrete steps and I was on the night watch.

I think I had SGT 1st Class Volsco, Army cryppie, and SSGT MacCarron, USAF, on the desk that night, ostensibly under my charge, though figure the odds of that. Our secure communications were a KY-4 telephone and a teletype, and we had Armed Forced Radio and Television on the television, trying to figure out what was going on in Kwang-ju, a province in the SW ROK mostly famous for some extraordinary red pepper. Highly recommended, if you can find it. I had a one-pound sack that lasted me almost a decade.

Anyway, at the time, there was a former General named Chon du-Hwan who had decided to make a career change and become President (I think he was Korea Military Academy Class 10). He did so, though his support was kind of like Mr. Trump’s today in America. There appeared to be some locals who thought there might be a better democratic process than handing over power to his class at KMA. But what do I know. I was a long-term visitor, but a visitor none-the-less.

Down in Kwang-ju, there was some general police rioting and brutalization of activists- we called it the Kwang Ju Massacre at the time- and a lot of uncertainness at the HQ, since this sort of civil unrest normally wasn’t something that worked back home, although it was not entirely unfamiliar.

Anyway, SFC Volsco was doing his best to keep us entertained with stories of how the Army SIGINT people got authority to go after anti-Vietnam war protestors after some idiot made a direct threat to West Coast military bases. My favorite part of the tale was when he got to use a military-strength jammer against a kid with a Motorola phone and a megaphone and fried his ponytail. Then the KY-4 phone rang on the rack behind us.

Sometimes we would play around with it, answering “Yobo sayo, Secure Drop 4” to disconcert the caller that they were not talking to Americans, but this was a high tension environment and not a time to screw around. SSGT MacCarron answered the call with a crisp military greeting: “USFK Indications and Warning Center, may I help you?”

I saw him squeeze his eyebrows together, and he handed me the phone. Sotto vocce, he said, “We got problems in Kwang-Ju.”

When I announced myself on the phone, I discovered I was speaking to a US Army Lieutenant Colonel who was commanding a munitions magazine in the troubled city. It appeared there were a bunch of angry people at the front gate who thought somehow we were enabling the former General to subvert the Republic.

I can neither confirm nor deny the remaining substance of the conversation. But the Colonel thought he might need guidance from higher headquarters just in case he had to defend some special ordnance, and how many people he was authorized to kill to do it.

I made sure to get his name and call-back secure number, and told the Sergeants to hold down the fort while I went to go find a grown-up in Ops.

It was not the most challenging shift I had in the building at Yongson Garrison that had once been a Japanese Army Hotsi Bath, but it was damned close.

I guess what I am trying to say is: “Everyone stay cool. We have done this dance before. Just not with the people we are doing it with.”

The question is who leads, and I think we have let the Kims lead long enough.

Copyright 2017 Vic Socotra

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