MIGHTY CULTURE

This is what it was like to train right next to North Korea

With things starting to look up on the peninsula, it's hard to believe that, in 2014, we were sitting around waiting to see what, exactly, was going to be the straw to break the Korean camel's back reignite the (technically still-ongoing) Korean War. Thankfully, the North was wise enough to know not to f*ck with a Marine Corps infantry battalion. Regardless, we kept training for the worst.

We don't have to tell you it's cold on the Korean peninsula; you can read about that elsewhere. No, what you're here for is to know what it was like for a Marine to be sitting three miles from the Korean Demilitarized Zone for a month and a half.


Scary at first...

Yeah, it was. At the time, of course, we continuously called NK's bluff because they did bark a lot for decades following the Armistice, but they're enough of a loose cannon that some of us didn't want to get complacent. It was better to assume that they were going to do something and we would be the first on the scene.

We took the training more seriously at the time.

(U.S. Marine Corps)

Of course, we didn't realize how close we were to the DMZ until North Korea launched a few missiles. My company had been out on a range, police calling in the middle of the night when we noticed a couple of shooting stars streak across the sky. It was a beautiful site. That is, until we went back to base and saw that they were definitely missiles...

It didn't help that the base didn't have any ammunition for the first couple of weeks. We were basically sitting ducks, and if North Korea had known any better, it could have been huntin' season.

We went on a DMZ tour and found out just how close it actually was.

(Photo courtesy of the author)

...then it was boring...

After the edge wore off, we became super bored. It didn't help that we were on a base that was small enough for you to be able to throw a rock from one end and hit some POG working on a Humvee on the other. The training itself wasn't bad. It was all easy stuff. But it was the heavy amount of downtime that really threw us for a loop.

The biggest training challenge was the temperature.

(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Caleb T. Maher)

External hard drives containing anything from games to movies to adult entertainment were passed around the platoon. Cigarettes, smoked all the way to the butt, were deposited into the butt can at least five times per day (more when the temperature was above 50 degrees). In fact, we probably broke the record for how many times you can watch Friends from beginning to end in a single week.

Seriously, so much Friends.

...until the ROK Marines showed up.

It was a major snoozefest up until the Republic of Korea Marine Corps showed up. Then it quickly turned into a dog-and-pony show on top of the snooze fest. Then, training became much more frequent, so it quelled our boredom. We ended up forgetting that North Korea existed during that time, you know, except when our Battalion Commander reminded us during every formation.

The ROK Marines were honestly pretty cool.

(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Ryan Mains)

All in all, training next to North Korea was hyped up beyond what it actually was. There was a lot of anxious excitement at first and then it was just, "what show are we watching today?" For a first deployment, I definitely expected a lot more, but, thankfully, it wasn't any more exciting than it was because, you know, fighting in the cold would suck.

So, that's what it's like to train next to North Korea.

My platoon before a major training op that was called off because the range was set on fire.