• December 18, 2014

Ft Hood Post Notes

Rose Thayer
  • Rose Thayer
  • Editor of the Fort Hood Herald
  • E-mail: rthayer@kdhnews.com
  • Phone: (254) 501-7463
  • Information about Fort Hood, written by Rose Thayer, editor of the Fort Hood Herald.
Wednesday 10/29/2014
Lessons learned in Korea and lots of thank yous

As I complete all my stories here in Korea, I can’t help but take a moment to thank all of the people who helped get through the past few weeks and made everything possible.

First, I have to thank the woman who made this entire trip possible — Maj. Junel Jeffrey, public affairs officer for 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division. When we met to interview the commander of 3rd Battalion, 8th Cavalry Regiment, I suggested that I would like to follow up on all the work going on in Korea. Little did I know she would bring me here to cover it firsthand.

I’m here with another media outlet and Maj. Jeffrey has endured question after question. When she doesn’t know the answer, she finds it. She interprets train and bus schedules, gets us where we need to be on time and even shared her laundry soap.

Then of course, the two command teams of the Chargers and Warhorse Battalions. They opened the units up to us and allowed us to follow around soldiers, interview people and take endless amounts of photos in the motorpools.

Then of course, there are the many, many soldiers who have put up with our constant presence as well. As newbies to barracks living, soldiers helped us get settled, offered us their Wi-Fi passwords and located a mop when our shower started leaking.

Outside of Camp Stanley and the Cav, there were also many other people who helped us score interviews we could have never gotten on our own. Mr. Kim in public affairs at 2nd Infantry Division drove us many places and also endured a string of questions ranging from the innocent (What kind of tree is that?) to the political (Do most South Koreans want the two Koreas to be reunited?). He was such a good sport, and I learned a lot from him.

Also at Camp Red Cloud, were many other public affairs specialists, American and Korean, who got us squared away to meet the division command team, and allowed us to turn their break room into a mini office between meetings.

I even have to give a little thanks to the other media here — KCEN’s Tiffany Pelt and Cameron Duckworth. We spent many nights camped out together in the recreation center and bowling alley. Not only were we there for each other when our notes got ruined in the rain or to help each other find the correct spelling of someone’s name, we also made each other laugh. When we were cold, wet and exhausted, we somehow found a way to lighten the mood.

Then there were these magical elves back in Killeen — the editors at the Herald. Our plans of filing online stories went out the window when I realized the Herald’s website and admin page were blocked by the free Wi-Fi at Camp Stanley. I’m not tech savvy, I just know it didn’t work. So every photo, video and word I sent back to the states was filed away for me by the wonderful editors in the newsroom. And our freelance videographer tried his best to talk me through video problems — bless his heart, because I know I was so frustrated and just wanted to give up.

I’ve never been one to rely on others to get a job done. I believe if you want something done right, you just have to do it yourself.

These three weeks in Korea taught me otherwise. Just going through my notes to write this acknowledgement blog, I’ve revisited all the times I had to ask for help. Each time I had to rely on someone else to make something happen, I can now see as a lesson.

And if I forgot to mention you, it’s nothing personal. It’s just been a long three weeks on the peninsula and I’m ready to get home.

Posted in Ft hood post notes on Wednesday, October 29, 2014 6:58 pm. | Tags: Kdh_korea Comments (1)

Could I do this for nine months?

When I found out I wouldn’t be heading home after just one week in Korea as I expected, I called my mom.

I knew she would worry if she didn’t know where I was — as all moms do. She was at work teaching dance, but snuck away from her students for a bit so we could catch up.

After I told her the many shenanigans I’d experienced and how I was living here, she asked if I thought I could do this for nine months.

I really hadn’t thought of it until she asked, and I paused. Would I be up for nine months in a foreign country? I'm so used to my husband being the one deployed I'd never thought to put myself in his shoes.

I am surrounded by soldiers who have been living here at Camp Stanley in the barracks for nine months. It's a small post, but has everything you need. But knowing my presence here was only temporary, I’d never even considered what it would be like to stay until Mom asked.

And yes, I think I could. If I knew I was going to be here for that long and got settled in, I could totally last through a deployment here. There is so much to see and do that I think I could keep myself busy enough, when I wasn't working. I'd also like to think that if I was staying here that long, I'd get some workspace, which would really help me feel more organized.

Also settling into my room in the barracks would make a difference. Most soldiers here have TVs in their rooms, they’ve decorated and really gotten comfortable. I’m living out of a suitcase, rewashing the week’s worth of clothes I brought and shivering at night under a borrowed blanket. The one I brought didn’t cut it, because even though it dips into the 40s most nights, the heaters here don’t get turned on until November.

It really reminds me a lot of college. The post feels like a campus, with its recreation center, the various Halloween events I've witnessed and the dining facility and gym. On weekends people hang out in the barracks community room cooking and playing cards and of course, playing loud music. I really do feel like it’s freshman year I’m back in Littlefield Dorm at the University of Texas. Just take out studying and insert writing articles.

I’ve gotten to know many of the people in my building and we chat and wave when we see each other out and about. I'm starting to feel like I have a little community here.

Yes the lack of privacy can be a pain, and the curfews, rules and policies here can make adults feel childlike, but none of it is extreme, outrageous or hard to follow. It’s all manageable.

Having said all that, I’m fully aware that it’s fall now, and absolutely beautiful outside. Snow is on its way and had I had to walk these hills to the PX food court at 7 a.m. in freshly fallen snow, I might have a completely different answer.

Posted in Ft hood post notes on Wednesday, October 29, 2014 9:13 am. | Tags: Kdh_korea Comments (1)

EIB recipients showcase the strength of women

When I met the Korean women who earned the Expert Infantryman Badge I was shocked. Both Staff Sgts. Kim and Kwon were tiny. The packs they wore during the 12-mile ruck march could have very well weighed as much as they do, but somehow they made it through. The strength packed into their small frames is impressive.

In the Korean army, women make up less than 5 percent of the enlisted force. While men are required to serve about two years, women in Korea can choose to sign up and are by far a minority. It was clear in speaking to these two women, who signed up with the infantry, they are passionate about what they do — they both love the army.

I asked Staff Sgt. Kim Min Kyong if she wanted to retire from the army one day, she answered with a very enthusiastic yes: “To die as a soldier would the happiest thing ever,” she said.

I know there are women in the U.S. Army who have gone through this rigorous EIB testing and passed. A quick Google search pulls up their names and photos in various Army releases and news stories. In my eyes they “earned” this coveted badge, just as these two Korean soldiers did. It’s a shame though they can’t wear it. American women are still blocked from serving in the infantry.

It’s coming though. The U.S. Army is working diligently to integrate both genders into combat roles and in the next few years, an American woman with the physical abilities, passion, dedication and drive as Staff Sgts. Kim and Kwon, will wear that small rifle on their uniform as well.

Posted in Ft hood post notes on Wednesday, October 29, 2014 9:11 am. | Tags: Kdh_korea Comments (0)

Tuesday 10/28/2014
Language barrier brings surprises

On Tuesday evening, my fellow journalists and I decided we needed some adventure. With our escort busy, we went into Uijeongbu in a cab just to walk around and shop.

At dinner — we selected our restaurant based on the photos of food displayed on a banner outside — we stared at the menu written completely in Korean. We were fully prepared to just point at the picture we'd seen outside and hope for the best.

A waitress came and stared with us. I was mentally preparing for confusion. Then she asked in perfect English, “Do you like spicy food?”

We all stared back in shock. “You speak English,” I said way too excited.

Our meal was fantastic, and we actually knew what was in it before it arrived. Success!

The language barriers in Korea come and go, and are often in the places you don’t really expect. Over the past two weeks I’ve picked up about three Korean words — hi, thank you and yes. My pronunciation is shaky, but I'm understood. Anything beyond that, is too much for me.

I bought some gifts for my sisters while in Uijeongbu, but I’m really sure what they are, because the packaging is all in Korean. The only English on the tag reads, “It’s your lucky day!” We’ll see just how lucky we are when we open the packages.

Another day, we went to Dongdoucheon to interview a city official. I expected this to go well and in English, since the man worked in the international office for the city. Wrong.

We had to write down all our questions, a translator rewrote them in Korean, and the official answered only in Korean. The man spoke some English, but didn’t feel comfortable speaking it on camera. I can respect that. That’s why he has a translator. What I still don't understand is why the translator didn't just translate on the spot.

Regardless, it was by far the strangest interview I’ve had — and I once successfully covered an event in Killeen that was entirely in Spanish.

The translator promised to send us a transcript in English, but we never got it. Luckily I was able to track down a Korean soldier serving with the Fort Hood units here, and he translated the recording for me. The official had some great information in his quotes, and I wish I had known what he said then to ask a couple follow up questions.

The language barrier also pops up in strange places. While shopping in Artbox, a teenaged schoolgirl kept staring at me. Like, obviously staring at me. So I said hi in Korean.

The girl’s eyes brightened, she said hi back and then unleashed a long string of Korean sentences that meant absolutely nothing to me. My face must have shown my confusion because, she stopped talking and quickly turned away from me. I still wish I could have understood her.

I am impressed by many of the soldiers in 1st Battalion, 12th Cavalry Regiment, who are on the tail end of their nine-month deployment. They have picked up quick a bit of Korean and are able to handle themselves pretty well in Korean cities. Perhaps by the end of this week, I’ll pick up another phrase or two. Just don’t ask me how to spell any of them.

Posted in Ft hood post notes on Tuesday, October 28, 2014 11:35 pm. | Tags: Fort Hood , Korea , Uijeongbu , 12th Cavalry Regiment United States , Cavalry Regiment , Killeen , South Korea , 8th Cavalry Regiment United States , Kdh_korea Comments (0)

Monday 10/27/2014
Lots of hype for Korean baseball game

The last time I attended a professional baseball game the Houston Astros played in the Astrodome. I was small enough that my dad would dress me in a their old orange and yellow jerseys — who were those flattering on? — and it was cute. We would travel the two hours to the games, sit in the outfield and eat dome dogs.

These memories are vague in my mind, and I’m sure my mom would say I’m recalling it all wrong. But I honestly can’t remember ever going to a game since then. Anytime I watch baseball on TV, I fall asleep. Something about sports on TV just makes me want to nap. I can’t help it.

So I even surprised myself when I woke up Saturday, excited to attend a Korean professional baseball game. I’d been shown videos of cheerleaders and crowds cheering and waiving flags in the air. It looked more like a football game, which I don't mind attending from time to time. To be honest, though, the last football game I attended was four years ago when my husband was at Fort Knox.

All the hype for the game was worth it. It was so fun. One of my friends deployed here to Korea took our media group to the game with some of his friends. I got some red thunder sticks to clap together in support of the LG Twins as they battled it out against the NC Dynos. It was a playoff game and the Twins easily won.

During the game cheerleaders kept the crowd engaged using cheers sang to American songs. The soldiers had a game of who could guess the song tune first. Just a few of the hits we guessed included the Beach Boys’ “Surfin’ USA,” “It’s a Small World,” and Lil John’s “Turn Down for What.” It was quite a range.

I also learned the Korean word for “home run” is just “home run.”

Our group of Americans made friends with the group of Korean college students sitting behind us at the game. Afterward, they took us out in Gangnam to a restaurant specializing in spicy octopus. Thank goodness they were able to order for us. The entire menu was in Korean and the food so amazing.

We had the octopus, as well as sliced beef, salad and omelet rolls — which tasted more like they should be for breakfast, but were very yummy.

It was almost like an experience you see in a movie — making new friends and learning about the city from locals. I’m really starting to wonder if Korea is really this wonderful or if I’ve just lucked out.

Posted in Ft hood post notes on Monday, October 27, 2014 9:14 pm. | Tags: Fort Knox , Houston Astros , Lg Twins , United States , Reliant Astrodome , Korea , Astrodome , Kdh_korea Comments (0)

Thursday 10/23/2014
Chicken and beer in Seoul

We finally made it to Seoul today. As Korea’s largest city, I know I only saw a small portion of it, but it was so fun.

After doing some work, our PAO took us to do some shopping for souvenirs in the Insadong neighborhood. Most of what I bought are gifts for others, so I can’t write about them, but my husband and my eight nieces and nephews have something fun to look forward to.

I was impressed at how easy the train system is here — expect I seem to have problems loading my card with money. Most of my public transit experience comes from New York City, where you scan your Metrocard when you enter and that’s that. Here in Korea, you scan when you enter and when you exit.

On our last stop, I scanned my card to get out of the station, but it beeped at me.

Confused, I turned to the Korean man next to me, who looked at the screen and said, “Go, go.”

So I went.

From the silver partitions, two panels shot out and slapped me in knees, then disappeared as quickly as they came.

The man then smiled at me and help up two fingers, “You were two short,” he said.

No one came out to talk to me, and I left the station with sore legs and a willingness to refill my T-money card as soon as possible.

While in Seoul, though, my fellow Central Texas media and I decided to partake in a very popular meal in Korea — chicken and beer.

Known as “chimek,” there are cartoons on restaurant signs everywhere featuring the meal. Most have a smiling yellow chicken holding a mug of beer.

On the recommendation of a soldier, we visited BHC restaurant and were mostly impressed. Although, I have to say the chicken and beer combination is something I’m very familiar with as an American who watches football on occasion. I got a Korean beer called Max, while the others tried Cass.

I look forward to visiting Seoul again Saturday, as well as the chance to take in a Korean baseball game.

Also, the Army is a small world and my husband’s best friend from college is here in Korea. I’m hoping to see him for the first time since my wedding four years ago and catch up on life.

My husband complained that neither of us has ever gone to a baseball game with him.

Posted in Ft hood post notes on Thursday, October 23, 2014 11:11 am. | Tags: Kdh_korea Comments (0)

Blog: A visit to the DMZ

Ever since I began telling people I was going to Korea, they immediately asked if I was going to the DMZ. We were lucky enough to get on a media tour with U.S. Forces Korea on Wednesday to see the Joint Security Area and the demilitarized zone. The tour happens weekly and if you need a drink of water or take a bathroom break, you’re going to miss it or get left behind. It’s quick.

The tour begins in a JSA visitors center, where Korean army Sgt. Keukryul Park gave our group a presentation on six major incidents to occur in the JSA over the past 60 years. Now when I say the JSA, it’s the area you think of from movies featuring it — two large government buildings on each side of the border with armed guards just watching each other. I’m not sure where or what movie I got this image from, but it was pretty close to the real thing.

Also during the brief, we got information about the two villages each country operates in the DMZ as a sign of peace. The South Korean village, Taesung-dong, or Freedom Village is made of rice farmers who are heavily subsidized by the government, pay no taxes and are exempt from the country’s draft. About 208 people live there. I can’t imagine. They must be so isolated from the rest of country.

Just meters away, is the North Korean village, Gijung-dong, better known in South Korea as “propaganda village.” It was completely empty until 1982. It’s now inhabited by about 300 people.

These residents can’t talk to each other. It seems pricey and strange to support these two villages in the midst of the nothingness that surrounds them in the DMZ, but this is what’s done.

After the brief we received awesome blue armbands marking us as media and set out on a bus.

As we traveled toward the DMZ we passed the chain link fence Korea placed marked how far north civilians are allowed. Then we passed two giant black blocks, made to fall into the roadway, should North Korea invade. Then we were in the DMZ. The zone is the 1.2-mile buffer along both sides of the borderline, known as the demarcation line, or the 38th paralel.

Our first stop was the JSA, where we saw the guards watching each other, the former village of Panmunjom, where the armistice negotiations took place in 1953. We couldn’t take any photos of the South Korean buildings — which was strange to me because North Korean stare at them all day. What’s the secret?

As we took pictures to the north, their guard pulled out binoculars and looked back at us. We were absolutely forbidden to make any gestures or appear in any way we were trying to communicate with him.

Exactly centered on the borderline are four buildings — two blue and two silver. One blue building is the UN building where both countries can come together and talk today.

Weirdly enough, both countries use the building for their tours. If it’s a southern tour, their guards are present, and vice versa. The microphone cords on the table in the center of the room follow the borderline. I was able to cross the room and technically stood in North Korea for about 2 minutes. It didn’t feel any different.

The other blue building belongs to the south and the two silver buildings are for the north.

After just a few minutes we were ushered back onto the bus and driven to Checkpoint 3. This site is historic, because of the 1976 axe murder incident. Back then, the entire JSA was open for both countries to move about with checkpoints on either side of the borderline.

A large polar tree grew between Checkpoints 3 and 4, and had to be trimmed each year to keep the line of sight available. That year, while trimming the tree, about 20 North Korean guards attacked the Americans conducting the tree trimming. A captain and a lieutenant were killed. Camp Bonifas is now named for the deceased captain. The tree was cut down completely in Operation Paul Bunyan — during which the country was elevated to DEFCON 2 and an aircraft carrier was ready to attack if needed.

Again, we were quickly, rushed onto the bus and driven past the Bridge of No Return. In 1953, a prisoners of war exchange occurred on the bridge and people could choose which side they wanted. I can’t imagine what kind of propaganda was in people’s heads at the time of their decision, especially in the north.

We couldn’t get out of the bus at the bridge. Our tour guide, Park, said that because of the placement of the bridge, the North Koreans are able to carry larger guns on the other side than they are on the south in the armistice agreement. Therefor, it’s not safe. Interesting, though, a ceremony is held near the bridge sometimes to lay a wreath at the site of the axe murder. The 2nd Infantry Division hosted last year’s ceremony.

And that was pretty much it. That was our DMZ media tour. I wish I had learned more about how Americans help, but the information wasn’t available on the tour.

Personally, I’m still grappling with the whole thing. How can two countries be cordial enough to share a conference room, but angry enough to murder on a whim with an axe?

Seeing the ribbons of freedom in Peace Park, the northernmost place civilians can go, confused me even more.

There seems to be many Koreans who like a united Korea — north and south together. In a perfect world I’d like to think it could happen. But seeing how much effort has gone into separation, it’s hard to picture.

Posted in Ft hood post notes on Thursday, October 23, 2014 11:07 am. | Tags: Kdh_korea Comments (0)

Tuesday 10/21/2014
Delayed return makes for sweeter reunions

I’ve realized that getting to Korea was the easy part of my trip — getting home is what’s becoming a challenge.

There were some problems getting a bid for the final return flight of 1-12 Cav, which the commander of 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division, addressed during a town hall meeting Oct. 16.

“The issue is not money, but availability of charter flights based on other military requirements such as Afghanistan, Iraq and West Africa,” wrote Col. Matthew Van Wagenen, 3rd Brigade commander, in a memo to families of 1-12 posted on the battalion’s Facebook page following the meeting.

I get it. These soldiers have been in Korea away from their families, their homes, their pets, for nine months. They want to go home and I don’t blame them one bit.

But, for all the desire to go home, most soldiers are taking this in stride. One of the first things I learned as an Army spouse is nothing in this life is guaranteed. When my husband went to Afghanistan, he was gone longer than the expected nine months. He sat in Bagram for weeks and it sucked. But I knew at Bagram, our moment would come. If the Army has taught me anything, it is patience.

Now we are reversed and he is waiting as I am delayed in a foreign country. He is tracked the 1-12 Facebook just as the Charger spouses are to know when I’ll be ready for pick up at Cooper Field.

I will say that those last few days were agonizing as I waited for his return, but the homecoming was that much sweeter.

All any of us can do is make the most of what we’ve got. So with my few extra days in Korea, I’m on the hunt for a few extra souvenirs. Any requests?

Posted in Ft hood post notes on Tuesday, October 21, 2014 10:15 am. | Tags: Afghanistan , Korea , Iraq , West Africa , Facebook , Bagram , 12th Cavalry Regiment United States , 3rd Brigade Combat Team 1st Cavalry Division , Kdh_korea Comments (0)

Wi-Fi Junkie

My days in Korea have been consumed by one thing — finding wireless Internet.

The moment we landed in Anchorage my service went into roaming and I had to say goodbye to Sprint. It wasn’t easy, but I know it will be waiting for me the moment I step back onto the continental U.S.

Meanwhile, I’m like a junkie looking for my next fix, as I constantly flip the switch on my iPhone to turn the Wi-Fi on and off, on and off. Maybe now, there’s a signal?

I watch anxiously as the little dashes spin in a circle, waiting to determine my online fate. Will it be “CAC,” “food court,” or maybe the random “iptime,” that will appear and then fade away before I can even download my emails?

From what I can tell, most soldiers stationed here get a Korean phone, which for about $80 a month, I’m told can also be a hotspot. Most of these have hilarious names, such as “not yours,” “i’mleaving,” and “pandatime,” but are kept behind lock and password. Some nights I’m tempted to wander the barracks floor asking for “moneytalks.”

Occasionally, someone will show mercy on me, and let me link up to their hotspot. I’ll sit around them as I scratch the itch. Anything new? If it’s daytime here, then usually not. I’m 14 hours ahead and everyone I know in America is sound asleep.

Staff Sgt. Baeza graciously let me link up to his hotspot one day and my phone will desperately reach out to him any time he’s near. “Hispanictitanic” will pop up and my phone will beep and chirp with alerts. Relief.

I had no idea how attached I was to my iPhone until the data plan was taken away. It just sits silently in its pink and white case until the moment it can hook up with Wi-Fi. When that happens, I’m ravenous for information.

The Herald sent me with a hotspot, but it’s to be used on an “emergencies only” basis. I haven’t been in an emergency situation just yet, but I have found myself in some strange places to link back to life off of Camp Stanley — and work, of course.

On weekdays, most everything on this post closes at 8 p.m., with exception of the bowling alley, which stays open until 10 p.m. That mean everyone in my office is just getting ready for work, so it’s hard to check in.

To talk to my editor at an hour where we can make changes to the paper, I have to wake up around 5 a.m. It’s cold and dark out then and the next open building with Wi-Fi is the PX food court at 7 a.m. The Burger King is also my first chance for coffee — another addiction I plan to shake someday.

Most days I end up in an ATM vestibule connected to the Recreation Center. You can get Wi-Fi, but also stay warm. It doesn’t have an overhead light, so to work, I have to sit on the floor under the blue and red glow of the ATM. From time to time, a soldiers wrapping up PT will run in to get cash and see me there, with my notepad and camera spread across the dirty floor.

Maybe when I get home I’ll take some days to detox myself from my technology. Turn off the iPhone, tuck it into a drawer and spend a day enjoying the moment. Until then, you can find me lounging in the food court, hovering in the gym lobby or wandering Camp Stanley with my phone in the air, as I look for the Hispanictitanic.

Posted in Ft hood post notes on Tuesday, October 21, 2014 8:40 am. | Tags: Iphone , Camp Stanley , Kdh_korea Comments (0)

Sunday 10/19/2014
Suicide Prevention Walk on my mind

As with most things related to the Army, our trip to Korea was a moving target. We left about a week after we originally expected, cutting into plans I had made months ago with my friend Clare.

I met Clare when I wrote about how suicide affected her family. After that, we got to know each other and eventually became friends. Last year, I walked in a suicide prevention walk in Austin with Clare, her sister and her three children. I wrote about the experience in a column.

With plans to participate in the walk again, Clare and I got T-shirts made in honor of her mother’s life.

That walk is today and I am thousands of miles away in Korea. Despite my absence at the walk, I am proudly wearing my “Maria’s Love” T-shirt and am ready to share Clare’s story (I know she wouldn’t mind) with anyone who asks what it means.

Even if I couldn’t be with Clare and her family today in person, I am definitely still there in spirit.

If you're interested in learning more about suicide prevention and the Out of the Darkness Awareness campaign, go to www.afsp.org.

Posted in Ft hood post notes on Sunday, October 19, 2014 10:00 am. | Tags: Clare , Korea , Clare Gaa , Cassandra Clare , Polyvinyl Chloride , John Clare , Good Economics , Clare Wood , Kdh_korea Comments (0)

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