The United States and the Republic of Korea have a history of conducting bilateral military exercises where we team up and plan to take on an objective together to strengthen our relationship and coordination. One of these annual exercises is called Ssang Yong, and it’s a part of Foal Eagle, which typically takes place in the early spring. This training exercise between Marines and South Koreans is one of the largest military exercises in the world and, historically, it’s made North Korea really angry.
As part of Ssang Yong 2014, Golf Company, 2nd Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment was attached to a ROK Marine company and together, they boarded three ships. When first platoon boarded the ROKS Dokdo, the Marines had no idea they were in for a full seven days of suffering and pain.
The experiences were life-changing and here’s why.
You could barely even stand between the racks of the berthing.
(U.S. Navy photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Brien Aho)
South Korean ships are crammed
The ROKS Dokdo is a very small ship. The berthing areas were so tiny that they were only used for sleep. If you wanted to hang out in the berthing, you might as well just climb in your bed and stay there — or else you’re just occupying otherwise valuable space.
Cash made things at least a little easier.
(U.S. Navy photo by Culinary Specialist Petty Officer 3rd Class Cedric Ceballos)
The debit/credit card machine was down
You know how ships have a store on them from which you can buy snacks so you aren’t starving between meals? Well, typically, items there can be purchased with a special card that only works on the ship. The only problem is that no one told us that, and no one gave us any. So, our only option was to pay with cash.
Some of us, however, didn’t get a chance to withdraw cash prior to departing, which put a serious damper on snack time.
Most of us mainly ate rice and seaweed paper.
(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Immanuel Johnson)
The South Korean food portions were terrible
South Koreans don’t eat nearly as much as Americans. We eat like it’s going out of style and that’s especially true if you’re an infantry Marine. The ship was stocked with enough food to support ROK Sailors and maybe a handful of Marines — but they were in no way prepared to handle a platoon and a half of us.
Not only were we starving between meals, the meals didn’t do too much for us, either.
The Korean cigarettes aren’t bad, trust us.
(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Logan Kyle)
There were only South Korean tobacco products
The ship only carried (go figure) Korean tobacco products, specifically cigarettes. If you didn’t bring some extra American cigs, you’d have to settle for the Korean stuff. Admittedly, these aren’t bad at all, but it felt wrong.