It is always kind of interesting how life has a way of putting us in different places at different times that are somehow connected. I guess that is what people mean when they say a part of their life has come full circle. Such was the case when I took a recent trip to the South Korean side of the Korean War Demilitarized Zone (DMZ).
Way back in 1980, I was a bright eyed Airman Basic in the United States Air Force and I was newly assigned to the sprawling Kadena Air Force Base in Okinawa, Japan. I had just arrived after completing over six months of technical school as an Imagery Interpreter Specialist, and I really did not know much about the Korean War or the Korean Peninsula DMZ. Over the course of the next 18 months of my assignment, all that would change dramatically.
I was assigned to Detachment 1 of the 9th Strategic Reconnaissance wing, the same wing whose headquarters were located at Beale Air Force base in California. I worked with the amazing and majestic SR-71 reconnaissance aircraft reading out and interpreting its many forms of reconnaissance which included synthetic aperture radar, infrared imaging and of course the all-important reconnaissance photos. My mission was simple; we were to provide early warning for the Republic of South Korea in case of a troop buildup by the North Koreans near the DMZ.
Over the next 18 months I would go from being an airman that knew little about the DMZ to one that knew it like the back of my hand.
Some 32 years later on a stopover in South Korea, I had the opportunity to actually visit the DMZ. It was an unforgettable experience.
Stepping off the bus when I arrived at the DMZ brought a lot of mixed emotions out of me. I was sad and proud to be standing on the very hallow ground where so many brave American soldiers had lost their lives during the conflict. It also made me feel good about the work that I had done so many years before; it made me elated to see a place that I had seen so many times from above. Most of all, it made the hair stand up on the back of my neck knowing that I had just arrived in what was technically still “an active war zone.”
A few minutes spent at the Dora Observatory with its strict rules about where you can and can’t take photos brought the latter feeling home quite convincingly. When reaching the observation wall, it was breathtaking and exhilarating to look out and see all those places across the border that I had seen so many times in the reconnaissance photos. That chapter in my life had truly come full circle. Nobody around me could possibly have imagined all the different emotional extremes that were bouncing around inside of me.
Each stop on the tour held great significance. The 3rd infiltration tunnel was awesome to see, and the emotion I felt at the Freedom Bridge and wall of ribbons was truly extraordinary. You could literally feel the tension in the air and the grim look on the South Korean soldiers told you just how serious their assignment on the DMZ was; there was no room for games here as the fragile peace between the two countries had been severely tested many times over the last decade.
In 1980 I only had a small idea of how important the job I did back then was, but the time spent at the DMZ in 2014 really brought home just how vital that mission I did back in the 80’s really was.
Disclaimer: The content in this article is the opinion of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the policies or opinions of US Patriot Tactical.
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