On the town with the U.S. military in Korea


Kevin Heldman

 

A mile or so outside of Yongsan U.S. Army
Garrison in central Seoul, past the tourist shops and street
vendors selling Bulls, Raiders, et al., apparel, past the Burger
King and the newly-opened Orange Julius and down a series
of narrow roadways packed with American soldiers who are falling
in and out of scores of ramshackle clubs–Cadillac Bar, Love
Cupid, Texas Club, Boston Club, the King Club, the Palladium, the
Grand Ole’ Opryis one of the 180 GI camptowns that
exist outside of every significantly sized military base in South
Korea. Or, in the clever catchy jargon of the 37,000 U.S. troops
stationed here to help keep the peace–Downrange.

On any given night in Itaewon women
prostitutes hang out at club doors soliciting GIs; one part
come-on, one part contempt. An old Korean woman, hands clasped
behind her back, spends the night strolling up and down Hooker
Hill, approaching young GIs and asking "Lady?" as the
GI, after questioning How much? and How old? follows her up the
hill and down an alley.

In the club eight drunk GIs are huddled
together, jumping on top of one another on the dance floor while
next to them Korean women dance with each other pretending
oblivion. A sergeant holds up his beer mug and says with
made-for-TV despair, "This got me here, this is keeping me
here."

A Korean woman outside a hostess club is
yelling at a young soldier, "Get out, get out of here."
The GI has his foot in the door, responding periodically with
"bitch," "asshole." When he finally storms
away she hisses after him, "Go home, your mommy will feed
you."

A GI is in the middle of the street with
his buddies, pummeling another GI and screaming, "I’m your
worst nightmare," until MPs arrive.

A black soldier who’s a member of NFL
(Niggas for Life)–a group complete with NFL baseball caps
(banned by the Army command) and a member nicknamed O-Dog,
who’s looking for payback over last nights brawl–is outside
a club telling the story of how a short while ago some of NFL
encountered a group of white soldiers sitting on the curb. The
white soldiers made a mock plea for money ("Help the
poor"). Words were exchanged. One white soldier used the
word "boy." A fight ensued and NFL "Grabbed that
white boy by the throat and BAM BAM." He demonstrates how
the white soldier, dazed and wobbling, crumpled to the ground, as
NFL tae kwon doed him in the face to finish him off. He told
parts of the story over and over, occasionally interrupting
himself with the exuberant, self-conscious pop psychology riff:
"I had my sex tonight."

Since the advent of the all-volunteer
military in 1973, the enlisted ranks have been a place for young
people with limited prospects; those looking to escape bad
neighborhoods, bad families, and bad job markets.

A 1993 survey of new recruits found that
they come from homes where 78.4 percent of fathers and 84.5
percent of mothers didn’t have college degrees. They come
from the ranks of the unemployed, working in dead-end jobs as
cashiers, in factories, at fast food franchises. A 1994 Rand
study on Army recruiting trends listed the youth unemployment
rate, which has risen almost 27 percent since 1989, as by far the
most significant factor affecting the army’s ability to attract
high quality recruits.

The Department of Defense spends $207
million a year on advertising to reach this market and to pitch
life in the military as an amalgam of vocational school, outward
bound, and character building camp replete with benefits. A way
out and up. But for many of the 176,000 new troops the U.S.
military recruits each year, the promise of employment
opportunities, education, and a better life often aren’t
realized. According to a recent Government Accounting Office
(GAO) report, one out of every three recruits doesn’t even
complete the first term of enlistment. The base pay for a private
is $199 a week before taxes and according to a Department of
Defense Quality of Life report, in a recent year 11,000 military
families overseas were eligible for food stamps.

Military recruiting literature states that
offering money for college is the ."..single most important
product that they [recruiters] have to entice people into the
military these days." Approximately 95 percent of the
Army’s new recruits sign up for the Montgomery GI Bill,
where you contribute a nonrefundable $1,200 into the program and
(if you meet a number of conditions and qualify for certain
bonuses) can earn up to $30,000 for college. But a significant
number of these men and women are paying into a program they may
never use. Though the military spins the numbers a variety of
ways, the bottom line, according to the Department of Veterans
Affairs, is that 2.03 million service members have contributed
into the program since it began in 1985, and to date only about
436,000 have actually used the benefits. Of those soldiers who
did use it when they left the service, their average payment has
amounted to about $7,000 dollars, $1200 of which was their own
money. A substantially lower sum than the "$30,000 for
college" that the military uses in its advertising.

As for character building, the military
model is in vogue today, invoked for everything from
rehabilitating youthful offenders in boot camps to graduating
wayward high school students. In some cities applicants for the
police force are allowed to substitute 2 years of military
service for a required 60 college credits. The military also
makes a point of grandstanding on morality issues, like the
argument that allowing gay soldiers to enlist would be bad for
morale, recently defeated legislation that would discharge all
soldiers who tested HIV-positive, new legislation intended to ban
the sale of pornography anywhere on U.S. military property, and
disallowing abortions at military hospitals.

 

But in actuality, the military is an
institution beset by a variety of destructive behaviors in the
enlisted ranks. In interviews with scores of soldiers, the
predominant theme that emerges is that they feel neglected and
betrayed by an institution that hasn’t met their
expectations and isn’t concerned with their welfare. And
they’ve responded in kind. Soldier after soldier tell
stories of assaults, sexual violence, gang activity, serious
alcohol and drug abuse, suicide, psychiatric problems, and racial
hostility.

The statistics bear these anecdotes out.
The military has a rate of heavy drinking for soldiers 18 to 25
years old twice as high as the civilian rate. A recent survey
revealed that 5 percent of active duty personnel answered
"yes" to the question of whether they’ve been the
victim of actual or attempted rape or sexual assault in the last
12 months. In the last year there were 83 reported homicides and
reports of gang activity at over 50 stateside bases.

And there have been a steady stream of
incidents: soldiers with white supremacist ties are arrested for
killing a black couple in North Carolina; a soldier is sentenced
to death for opening fire on a formation, killing 1 and injuring
18, explaining, "I wanted to send a message to the chain of
command that had forgotten the welfare of the common
soldier"; 10 black soldiers at Fort Bragg beat a white GI
into a coma off post near an IHOP; a soldier at Fort Campbell
rammed his vehicle into a crowd of fighting soldiers and
civilians killing 2 people; 2 soldiers are shot dead, one injured
at Fort Riley Kansas, the second double homicide at the base in
less than a year; 14 service members are arrested for smuggling
cocaine and heroin; 23 women working at Fort Bliss military post
file a class-action complaint charging that they have been
harassed to pose nude or perform sexual acts; in Japan a service
member is accused of exposing himself to a 6th grade girl; 4
others are sentenced for raping a 14-year-old girl; another
service member is arrested for slashing the throat of a Japanese
woman and stealing her purse; 2 marines are arrested for
assaulting and robbing a 56-year-old another Japanese woman; and
a 12-year-old girl in Okinawa is raped by 3 servicemen, inciting
a protest of more than 50,000 people.

A 1995 study by the Defense Advisory
Committee on Women in the Services surveyed male and female
soldiers stationed in 18 different installations overseas and
found substantial alcohol problems, high levels of physical
assaults (men on men), sexual assaults, racial hostility,
depression, discipline problems, low morale, and on some bases a
high number of suicide attempts and soldiers on anti-depressant
drugs.

These are young men and women who are
shipped to countries they know little about and have little
interest in, who are disconnected from their culture and their
families and arrive overseas with a misguided sense of
superiority because of their role as a protecting force. Yet they
find themselves ghettoized in GI camptowns, on the bottom rung of
society economically, denied entrance to clubs, bypassed by
taxis, protested against, regarded on the street with wariness or
utterly ignored–second-class citizens in their own country,
they’re sent overseas to be treated like second-class
citizens in other people’s countries.

 

I meet my Pentagon appointed public affairs
contact, Jim Coles, Chief of Public Information for U.S. Forces
in Korea (to be referred to hereafter as Public Affairs) at
Yongsan Army Garrison in central Seoul, Command Headquarters for
the Republic of Korea/U.S. Combined Forces.

A civilian employee of the Army, Public
Affairs is the official source of information on relations
between U.S. soldiers and Koreans and is regularly quoted in
stateside newspapers and appears on CNN and NPR as a spokesman
for the military. He’s an ex-military man who doesn’t seem too
keen on helping me report. His attitude is basically: Reporter,
shut your mouth and listen to me, there are absolutely no
problems here.

His attitude is consistent with the army
chain of command’s reluctance to acknowledge any type of
deviant behavior in the ranks. Every incident is dismissed as an
aberration, a few bad apples.

Public Affairs keeps me waiting in his
office as he talks openly to his buddy on the phone about where
to get a good Korean prostitute nowadays. He complains that some
of these girls won’t even touch an American guy now, preferring
the rich Koreans and Japanese with their BMWs and asks
rhetorically if his buddy can imagine how it feels to be snubbed
by a whore.

Public Affairs insists that all the
problems between GIs and Koreans are caused by the irresponsible
reporting of the Korean press. In May 1995 a large brawl broke
out among American soldiers and Korean passengers on a subway
train, the latest incident in a series of crimes involving GIs
and Koreans. Eight months later, when the issue was still
resonating in the press, Public Affairs’ stateside
newspaper quote was: "The American guys were giving better
than they were getting."

He tells me I can only interview soldiers
with an escort present and dumps me off to a 25-year-old Second
Lieutenant, Maya Danforth, who’s been in Korea for 15 months.
She’s getting out of the Army in 23 days and is supposed to be my
PR guide.

A short while into a conversation it turns
out Lieutenant Danforth doesn’t think much of the Army.
"They try to break you and if they can’t break you they get
rid of you. That’s what’s happening to me," she says.

Danforth tells me she didn’t get along
with her company commander (who’s since been discharged from the
Army) and who retaliated by sending her for a psychiatric
evaluation. She says the commander had half the company in
alcohol rehab, the other half seeing psychiatrists.

On being stationed in Korea, Danforth
complains that there is absolutely nothing for soldiers to do but
drink and there is nobody here who really cares about the welfare
of the soldier. "The army doesn’t have morality
principles," Danforth says, "They have principles based
on is somebody going to get killed and am I going to get in
trouble because they got killed.

In South Korea, where the U.S. military has
been a presence since 1950, there are approximately 98
installations spread throughout the country–from small camps
close to the North Korean border to posts that are closer to
small towns, complete with golf driving ranges and mini-malls,
all closed to non-military personnel.

The hostility and separation between
Koreans and American soldiers is palpable, off-post as well as
on.

In the barracks the KATUSAs As (Korean
soldiers assigned to U.S. military units) and the American
soldiers are almost completely segregated, living in different
rooms, with little interaction. American soldiers call the
KATUSAs gophers, insist they’re weird, gay, have no respect for
their rank, and are vaguely annoyed by the fact that they speak a
different language and eat "strange" food.

American soldiers say Korean men are
jealous because they get all their women. They call them gooks
and mock their language during protests: "Yankee Go
America," "Go Hell."

Last year there were over 861 reported
offenses committed by American service members involving the
Korean public. The most recent incident was the September 11
arrest of Pvt. Eric Munnich, a 22-year-old soldier, who confessed
to strangling Lee Ki Sun, a 44-year-old Korean woman, allegedly
over an argument about payment for sex.

And there have been a steady diet of
incidents, seldom reported in the stateside press, that have
reinforced the tension. In the last year there has been regular
protests and demonstrations by Korean nationals outside of U.S.
military bases, including 9 days of campus protests involving
over 7,000 students, demanding among other things the removal of
U.S. troops. There has been a fire bombing of a U.S. housing
complex, 8 GIs were accused of beating two South Korean men who
were trying to break up their fight with a cab driver, an
18-year-old soldier was arrested for the aggravated assault of a
48-year-old Korean woman outside of a club, another soldier was
arrested for breaking and entering and attempted rape, yet
another was accused of raping and beating a bar hostess, a
civilian employee of the Army was arrested for beating a Korean
woman who later died of her injuries and a host of other arrests
and accusations.

In 1993, the brutal rape and murder of a
Korean woman, Kum E. Yoon, by an American soldier, Private
Kenneth Markle–a name now recognized throughout Korea–led to
widespread outrage and protests. Her murder led to the formation
of a Korean organization called The National Campaign to
Eliminate Crimes by U.S. Military in Korea which keeps track of
crimes committed by military personnel in Korea, and is involved
in activism against military abuses.

 

At one camp I sat with Specialist Jim
Ahnefeld, and Private Skaarup on a curb outside their office on
post. They say they’re not working their MOS (Military
Occupational Specialty) and that they basically do nothing all
day.

"Ninety-eight percent of E-4’s and
below are dissatisfied, this place is a joke," Ahnefeld
says, and ridicules the idea that the army wants a smarter
recruit today, "We run around mopping floors, cleaning
things; they want a smarter army so we can really think about
that floor."

After high school Ahnefeld spent 3 years as
a civilian where he said he worked 15 to 20 dead end jobs;
supermarkets, warehouses, Sears, construction, driving a
school bus, a tow truck. He thinks the government has too much
control and that the military tries to brainwash people about
humanitarian missions when it’s really about oil and economics.
He also feels he’s been treated unfairly by the army and
complains "I’m an American, I don’t have to take being
treated like a dog."

 

Skaarup, who is white, recently got into a
fight with a black GI and admits in front of his black superiors
that he used the "N word" but he didn’t mean it, just
the heat of the moment. As a result Skaarup had to go to drug and
alcohol counseling where he said all they do is ask you how much
you drink. He said he lied. He said that he came in the army for
his people not the Korean people, complains that because of
regulations he can’t hit Koreans in a fight, he can’t defend
himself, that we shouldn’t be over here and refers to South Korea
as the property of the United States.

On another post in the city of Taegu, I met
members of the RATT (Radio, Telephone and Teletype) Platoon, a
group of mostly white enlisted soldiers who work an MOS which
they’ve imbued with a certain pride. Before the military they
worked as managers at Burger King, at McDonalds, as
roofers and laugh about being stoned when they took the ASVAB
(the military entrance exam). When they get out they want to be
police officers and have vague plans about college.

They’re against welfare, okay with gays in
the military, talk about "fag bars" being off limits
and the whole hall full of dykes that used to be in the barracks
and constantly direct Mexican jokes to the one Mexican soldier in
their unit.

 

 

"I’m in it for something, and it’s not
for patriotism. I’m in it to get mine, just like they’re in it to
get theirs," says Specialist Joseph Eatman, a 26-year-old
soldier and one of the founders of NFL.

I first met members of NFL, who number
about ten, on a Saturday morning in the barracks in Yongsan. In
addition to Eatman there is Specialist Bill Smith, 23-years-old
with four years in the Army, and Specialist Kenyett Johnson who
is 24-years-old, has 5 years in the Army and a wife in the
states. Johnson and Smith both repair communication security
equipment.

I ask who joins the army today.

"People with nothing better to
do," Eatman says.

Smith, an intelligent, funny kid who
occasionally feels obligated to pretend he is or was a criminal,
says that after he graduated from high school he sat around and
did nothing, briefly working as a cashier at Target. He says he
didn’t really attend high school, joined the Army to "stay
out of jail, stay out of trouble."

"The army traps you in a certain way
too, "Eatman says, "because you get in the Army and you
can get all the credit in the world, and by the time it’s time to
get out you can’t, you gotta have a job to pay off all these
bills. You get started partying all the time, you don’t go to
school. I’m going to school right now, I’m not even using my GI
Bill or College Fund and they’re giving me tuition assistance.
There’s a lot you can take advantage of, but you have to ask, you
have to know, you have to look into it yourself, because they’re
not going to tell you."

I ask about drinking in the Army.

The room erupts into laughter

Eatman and Smith both said their recruiters
encouraged them to lie about their civilian drug use when they
enlisted and they did.

"In the states, oh, man, our unit, we
had them [urine analysis tests] every other week and they were
kicking people out right and left," Eatman says. "We
were supposed to go support Panama but we couldn’t because we
were too high on the drug blotter," meaning there were too
many soldiers who had tested positive for drugs.

As for gangs in the military, Eatman says,
"This is just like home, people trying to go international
and get a rep," alternately amused and a bit worried that
NFL evolved from fraternity to the quasi gang that it is now.

They do tell me that they know a lot of
people who were in gangs, joined the military and continue to
live the lifestyle.

Eatman offers a few examples, "I was
in situations at Fort Carson [Colorado] at a club on post. I had
a red RIP T-shirt on and a corporal came up to me wanting to
fight, saying this is 111 neighborhood, you know, it’s on. He’s
still claiming his old set. I told him I gave that up a long time
ago, I don’t bang no more…[In another incident] We were at this
club, The Step, and these 2 military guys they drew guns on each
other outside. One had a silencer on a Mac 10, another had a 9
millimeter."

He says one of those soldiers who pulled a
gun was involved in another dispute. "This guy came back
with a whole bunch of people, they were all getting out of the
car. And with no qualms, my friend just got out, just started
shooting. And he was Army. They still got that mentality. He
didn’t hit nobody, he didn’t get caught, and he’s still boxing at
Ft. Carson."

Eatman was recently called in by the
Sergeant Major to sign a statement against a 26-year old white
soldier who threatened to kill his First Sergeant, the staff in
the First Sergeant’s office, and the colonel. The soldier
first made the threat to Eatman and showed him the knife he was
going to use. He’s now committed to a psychiatric ward on
post.

NFL describes him as "country,"
and says he always talked about making bombs and was in the
historic cavalry in his last unit. They call him McVeigh and
laugh. Although just the other night NFL was involved in a brawl
at a club Downrange over soldiers throwing gang signs, in
actuality, NFL is less a gang than a group of young men with not
a lot to engage them, who are in an environment that lends itself
to going Downrange and playing warrior.

In the Army, where 41 percent of the
enlisted personnel are non-white, the allegiances tend to fall
across racial lines. Beside NFL, there are white groups like the
Wild Ass Cowboys and the Silver Star Outlaws, Latinos in La Raza
and throughout the camptowns in Korea and on base, the clubs are
de facto segregated, racially divided by terms like "hick
night" and "R&B night."

An NFL soldier from Watts says, "I
know there’s something that goes on behind closed doors. I can
hear how white folks talk about Koreans. I could just hear them
talking about black people like that. They talk about Koreans
like, ‘Look at them, look at these people’."

In one camptown I run into a soldier who’s
wearing a leather jacket covered with biker patches and an FTW
patch. I make small talk with him, tell him who I am, what I’m
doing, and he tells me he’s a 29-year-old sergeant in the
military police, stationed at the nearby base (this was confirmed
when he ran into several of his MP colleagues who were on duty
and addressed him as such). We spend some time talking, going to
different bars. After a while he tells me he rides with a 1
percent (outlaw) motorcycle club back home, which he refers to
generically as the Brotherhood. He says he pledged before he
joined the military and always lets the club know where he’s
stationed.

After some more time together he tells me
he was CID (the Army’s Criminal Investigation Division) and
spent four years undercover in the States and Europe, with long
hair, civilian clothes, and a fake ID card, working drug
interdiction. He says he took down about 19 MPs who were dirty,
and arrested officers and First Sergeants for dealing and
trafficking drugs. He quit when they wanted him to inform on the
Brotherhood.

On military crime statistics he says,
"They bury so much shit you can’t tell what’s true,"
adding that the unit commander can deal with some crimes through
non-judicial punishment (issue what is called an Article 15,
which can include reduction in rank, forfeiture of pay and
confinement to post or barracks), and the incidents wouldn’t
show up in the crime statistics.

On his post he estimates there’s about
three assaults a day, 1 suicide attempt at least every other week
and a sexual assault or rape every two weeks. He said at his last
duty station in the States, in a typical week they’d confiscate
22 to 25 knives and guns like Tech-9s, Mac-10s and sawed off
shotguns, usually from soldiers’ cars.

He gave me his name but I agreed not to use
it. He said, half-jokingly, that when he gets out he wants to
grow his hair long, kick back, get stoned and talk bad about the
government.

The cynicism, the antipathy toward the
military and the level of dysfunction is pervasive among the
American soldiers in Korea. The place where this is most in
evidence is also the place that is the center of military force
in Korea: Camp Casey.

Casey is home to the 2nd Infantry Division,
a high security combat arms post, located about 12 miles from the
Demilitarized Zone. It’s a 19,000 acre expanse of
nondescript brick buildings and Quonset hut-like structures that
resembles the grounds of a penitentiary, housing close to 8,000
soldiers. It’s been visited by Presidents Bush and Clinton,
who referred to it as, "The frontier of freedom."
It’s where soldiers have kept telling me I should go because
that’s the real Army, the infantry, hard-core.

Casey is a place that has been involved in
a variety of incidents, including where Pvt. Markle was stationed
when he murdered Kum E. Yoon in Tongduchon. The recent murder of
Lee Ki Sun also took place in a room near the base. A month
before I arrived there was a midnight curfew downtown. A short
time afterward, about 400 local merchants scuffled with riot
police during a protest outside of the gate to the base. Soldiers
have nicknamed a club outside of post the "Stab or
Jab."

Public Affairs denies me access to
Casey, saying that the General in charge is one of those old
military men who still view the press as the enemy (when Clinton
spoke at Casey, reporters were not allowed to interview any
soldiers except those hand-picked by the military public affairs
office).

I got somebody to sign me on to the post
with his temporary military ID.

On the base I met Brandon Sexton, a
20-year-old from East Tennessee who just arrived in Korea. We
walk across the post to his room in the 2nd Battalion 72nd Armor
barracks. I sat down with him and PFC James Lewis, a shy
20-year-old from Rhode Island.

Sexton joined the Army three months after
high school. "I never did think about anything else I could
do," he says. He tells the familiar story of his recruiting
process: "He [his recruiter] asked me [if I smoked
marijuana] and I said ‘Yeah.’ He looked at me and he
asked me again and I said ‘Yeah.’ Then he looked at me
and asked me again and I said ‘No,’ and he wrote down
‘No.’ I thought that was kind of weird."

Lewis has been in country 10 and a half
months and says he used to go to church all the time before he
got to Korea. He’s on a two year tour and is not going to
reenlist. "After basic I was like fuck this shit, I want to
go to college," he says. He also says when he gets out he
wants to do something in law enforcement. "Maybe FBI or
something…I’m an adventurous person, I want to do something
that’s a little bit crazy like a cop in DC or drug trafficking
patrol, SWAT team, something like that."

About the rape case in Okinawa they both
feel strongly that the military shouldn’t turn the defendants
over to the Japanese government. Lewis didn’t know the
victim was 12-years-old. When he finds out he’s disgusted.
"That’s pretty bad, just go get a friggin’ whore," he
says, unknowingly echoing the comments of Adm. Richard Macke
commander of all U.S. military operations in the Pacific who was
forced to take early retirement for making a strikingly similar
remark.

Their daily routine consists of waking at
5:30, doing physical training, cleaning their rooms and the
common areas and after breakfast going to nine o’clock
formation. Afterward, they go to the motor pool where they sit
inside their tanks every day, all day, doing nothing or sleeping,
occasionally acting busy if someone comes by. Or they go up to
their rooms and play Nintendo.

 

Word spread in the barracks that there was
a reporter present and soon there was a steady stream of soldiers
coming into the room, all extremely eager to make it known that
life in the military is not what people think it is, not what
they thought it was.

Specialist Sean Pruitt joined the Army at
20, after he spent two years after high school "Drinking,
smoking and getting in trouble." He said he was on the
streets, staying with friends and had to do something with his
life. He was in the Marines delayed entry program where he got
waivers for LSD use, but while he was waiting to ship out, he
told the recruiter he experimented with crack cocaine and they
rejected him. He then joined the Army. He said he told the
recruiter about the Marines incident, but the recruiter told him
not to mention it.

"This place is a shithole,"
Pruitt says. "You get that many people over here angry,
fucked up, feed them some alcohol, people are bound to fight.
Plus you got to live with these people, smell their shit. I mean
you see the same people every day."

Pruitt continues, "I roped this guy
the other night…this punk who lives across the hall. I tried to
pull his fucken head off."

"He almost killed him," Private
Michael Waldron says, "I thought he was gonna’ break his
fucken neck" and adds that a number of people had to come in
and pull Pruitt off, to stop him from choking the other soldier.

Sexton describes a recruit in basic
training who was suspected of being gay and was given what’s
called a blanket party. "He was kind of tubby and always
lagging behind on runs, couldn’t do his work right…Drill
Sergeants would call him fat ass and all kinds of shit," he
says.

"He got pretty messed up. They shoved
a pillow on his head and they just went to punchin’ on him,"
Sexton says. The next morning the soldier went on sick call and
two weeks later he left the Army.

Waldron, 23-years-old, joined the Army
because "When I got out of high school jobs sucked." He
served for two years and extended for six months because of the
Gulf War.

He got out, joined the National Guard, got
married and lived in a trailer in Georgia where he was working in
construction, roofing, aluminum siding. He got divorced from his
wife, his car died, he failed the police officer test, had to
move back with his parents and after being out of active duty for
two years, reenlisted.

"I hate Korea, I hate this fucken
place," Waldron says. "We’re not really appreciated
here by the nationals. We don’t want to be here and they don’t
want us here but yet the military wants us here."

Waldron, who says, "The majority of
Korea that I’ve seen was the inside or the outside of a Budweiser
beer can," just lost a rank for coming on post a few minutes
after curfew and said he’s been getting "hammered"
every night because he just had his drinking privileges
reinstated.

"They look to fuck you any way they
can," Waldron says of the Army.

"That’s why I’m getting out, they
don’t care about us, we’re as disposable as fuck to them,"
Pruitt says.

They all complain about not having
equipment or having shoddy equipment, about training accidents
like the tank that rolled down a hill a few months ago, crushing
a barracks and killing a soldier sleeping in his room.

"Everybody thinks, ‘Oh, the
Army’s the nation’s fuckin security system,’ and shit–it’s
a fucken joke," Pruitt says. "When you wait for nine
months for a part to come in, to get your weapon, vehicle or
anything off of deadline status and you’re supposed to use this
thing in a war… then when you get the part, half the time it’s
the wrong fuckin part," says Matt Czaja, a 22-year-old
infantryman.

Czaja is not the typical disgruntled
soldier. He and his twin brother Mike, joined six months apart.
Matt says he joined the Army to make his father proud, because he
was patriotic and to repay a debt.

Matt says his first roommate at Fort Lewis
was a self described neo-Nazi with an SS tattoo who talked about
killing the chairman of the North Carolina NAACP. The
soldier’s friends would come to the room ("white males,
hate-because-of-reverse-discrimination" types, Matt says) to
drink beer and watch neo-Nazi propaganda videos.

Mike says when he was stationed at Ft.
Stewart in Georgia he was assigned to parking lot patrol because
soldiers were breaking into cars and stealing radios. One night
four or five M.P. cars pulled up and ordered him to get out of
the area because there was some GI running around in boxer shorts
and shower shoes, wielding two nine millimeters.

This wasn’t the Army they expected and
Mike, who originally joined for a career, realized the military
life wasn’t for him and is getting out, as is his brother.
"These are the only two experiences that I’ve had here in
Korea that made me actually feel like, whoa, some people actually
do care for the fact that I’m wasting a year and a half of my
life…these two guys were the only ones who seemed like they
actually gave a fuck." he says. He finally reduces all the
political and cultural issues surrounding the experience of the
GI overseas to what it often comes down to, the personal:
"Koreans think we’re good enough to fight their war, they
think we’re good enough to die for their country, but we’re
not good enough to date their women."

When he told a sergeant that he wasn’t
reenlisting the sergeant asked him mockingly, "What are you
gonna’ do when you get out, go work at McDonalds?"

And Mike Czaja, the good American boy who
loves his country, who joined the Army for all the reasons
described in the brochures, who even bought his own tools for his
track-vehicle and is leaving them so the next soldier will have
them, responded with what he probably had no intention of ever
saying before he joined, "When I get out, if I was flipping
burgers at McDonalds at least I’d be wearing a uniform I was
proud of."

BIO

 

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