Tuesday, October 8, 2013


One of the many unique features of service in Korea (like curfew and alcoholism) is the KATUSA program. There are usually 2-3 KATUSAs per platoon, and while I don't want to exaggerate their abilities, I can say that there is usually an embarrassing disparity between the KATUSAs in my battalion and the US soldiers they serve alongside. Regulated by their company's "Senior KATUSA," the battalion ROKA Sergeant Major, and weekly, secretive "KATUSA meetings," (where, perhaps, the Sergeant Major threatens to beat them) they are incredibly respectful, never have disciplinary problems, and score high on their APFT. They are successful machine gunners, clerks, team leaders, Bradley gunners, you name it.

This is not to suggest that a Korean makes a better soldier than an American. However, our Koreans often do, because they already went through a few selection processes. To be a KATUSA you have to win a lottery, though to compete in that you have to speak English fairly well, which probably means your family had money for English lessons and you have started university. Then, to be an infantry (possibly all combat arms) KATUSA, you have to volunteer again. So while the average ROKA draftee is nothing impressive, the guys who make it to us had to do a bit more than walk into their recruiting station and pass the ASVAB.

I haven't noticed this during joint exercises, but supposedly in the "old days" (somewhere between the establishment of the DMZ and the end of the $20 blowjobs outside the front gate) normal ROK soldiers would beat up KATUSAs whenever they saw them because of how much better off they had it with the Americans.

*Yes, the glasses really are that big. And they do only get issued one pair of boots for their two years in the Army!

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

The Bradley Fighting Vehicle

I haven't posted in a while because I was busy (for once) at gunnery, which is basically a big outing to do target practice for Bradleys and tanks. Shooting the brads is fun, but it's just a distraction from what the Bradleys really love doing, which is breaking randomly, all the time. Over the past month, every one of my four tracks has been "deadlined" (so broken that it is either unsafe or impossible to operate it) at least once. My NCOs are competent and conscientious when it comes to maintenance; this level of malfunction is just normal. At this point, I'm just relieved when one breaks down inside the motor pool, because that means it won't have the opportunity to break down in the middle of a Korean street* while driving to a training area, at which point recovering it becomes the definition of a schlep.

Anyone who's seen the masterpiece The Pentagon Wars  knows the Bradley is a fundamentally ridiculous vehicle. And after discovering their compulsion to break down, I had only contempt for the BFV. However, after eight months with the damn thing, like an ugly dog, I couldn't help but feel affection toward it. Mech for life. And yeah, it beats sleeping on the ground (don't worry, my brad still leaks on my when it rains hard enough).

*To the best of my knowledge, Iraq and Korea are the only two places the Army will let you drive a bradley through urban areas.

PS I drew this whole thing freehand with a random pen, no tracing/pencil/tablet, just some corrections once I scanned it!

Monday, June 17, 2013

Level Up

As per usual, no excuse for not drawing other than I was sitting in my room eating salmon and watching The Colbert Report. I did go on what was certainly the best vacation ever undertaken in USFK history, but sadly that only filled a few blurry weeks.

If you can do math at all, you know I actually got promoted a while ago. It was still a milestone for having survived the Army for 18 months (maybe not a huge accomplishment if you don't fight in Afghanistan or enjoy drunk driving; though I think I did almost boil myself to death in a Taiwanese spring). Also we get paid more, which is important when you have the spending habits I've cultivated in this not-particularly-inexpensive city. And, most importantly, the distinct sense of superiority over the second lieutenants. One actually tried to salute me - don't worry, I corrected her. After she saluted, of course.

PS Thanks for my friends/fans who are trying to get me to post more. I'll try to get motivated to get off my ass and sit on my ass to draw something proper.

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

The St. Paddy's Day Massacre

All this and more really happened, and things got a little stupider. And probably because I said "how could things possibly get any stupider?" some of my OWN soldiers decided to get in trouble in stupid ways, and it got stupider again. And then it started raining.

As I suspected from my first day on the peninsula, the US Army in Korea has several priorities ahead of combat readiness - foremost among them keeping soldiers from causing public relations disasters with the Korean public and government. Stars & Stripes has a pretty good archive of them (including the illustrated incidents) here: Bad Behavior in the Pacific.

The command's options to affect this are pretty limited: Curfews, restrictions, mass punishment, and blaming the next level of leadership beneath them. Our apparently enlightened Division Commander published a letter suggesting that giving all soldiers a psychological screening before they came to Korea would still be cheaper than the legal and administrative costs of a few troubled soldiers getting in serious trouble. He also recommended that the Army not send young, brand-new soldiers here, and stop sending misbehaving soldiers here as a punishment (Korea is one destination for soldiers who get kicked out of Ranger Regiment). Pretty forward-thinking, right? (In the Army, stating the obvious is usually about as avant-garde as it gets. Do so at your own risk).

The only actual solution (too obvious for the good General to say out loud) is to stop sending all these soldiers here in the first place. Those of you in the military will know that's true, and those of you familiar with the actual security situation in Korea will not be alarmed by that idea.

P.S. For my readers familiar with neither Korea or the Army, please don't get the idea that Korea is some kind of cesspool of military vice. Well, my area is, but much less so than any base stateside, where the frequency* and severity of offenses outmatches anything USFK does. The key difference is that when you punch a cop outside Ft. Bragg, it doesn't become an international incident.

*With the exception of sexual assault. US Army Korea leads the force there.

Saturday, March 30, 2013

What war with North Korea is like

War has been declared! I'm doing my part by going to Uijeongbu in half an hour to eat dinner and get drunk.

Once again, I  learn of North Korea's latest antics from my (stateside) friends on Facebook. Nobody in 2ID talks about it. CNN beat me to it and "broke" the "story" that nobody gives a shit. We don't, because:

1. Nobody believes North Korea would actually invade the south.

2. If they did actually initiate a proper war, everyone on Camp Casey would probably be dead instantly, so there's no reason not to spend tonight out on the town anyway.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Spring Break Forever

It's high time I talked about what Korea is like (not to be confused with 8th Army (US Forces Korea), which is a lovable if sometimes frustrating organization but not an east Asian country). And by Korea, I mean Seoul - home to half Korea's population, and to me for 48-72 hours per week. Maybe I feel a need to justify my transfer to Korea, maybe the Bismarck, North Dakota of Korea that hosts my base is just too depressing, maybe I have a (super healthy) emotional dependence on drinking, girls, and bars, or maybe I'm just trying to get it all in before idiot soldiers/North Korea cancel passes forever, but I hop the train to Seoul every weekend.*

The city is massive, public transit and infrastructure put most US cities to shame (which the exception of their sewage system - walk around for 10 minutes and you'll know what I mean), alcohol is everywhere (the 24/7 convenience stores on every block could usually stock a small bar - and sometimes people use them that way), and there are seemingly infinite places to go at night.

Korean people are certainly different than populations I've encountered anywhere else in the world in ways that range from charming to infuriating. Don't be surprised if an 80-year-old woman wordlessly body-checks you in the metro because you're in her way (or maybe just because she doesn't like you?)

*Don't worry, I didn't mean to imply I was an alcoholic. And if I ever wondered, a quick conversation with my NCOs about their drinking habits has assured me that I have a long, long way to go.

PS Yes, some of the Korean in this comic is jibberish. This is an autobiographical webcomic milblog by a listless junior officer, not a Korean textbook. I apologize for any confusion.

Monday, February 4, 2013

First Month as PL

Hard to believe I've already been a PL for a month, and in Korea for three months, a full quarter of my tour (but who's counting? Other than literally every soldier in Korea?).

I haven't been around long enough to have a clue what I'm doing, but I have been able to make some basic assessments about my unit. My platoon is probably not representative of the US Army, but as one of the six Infantry platoons in US Forces Korea, I will venture that we are representative of an Infantry platoon in Korea.

I was worried about showing up knowing nothing about the Bradley Fighting Vehicle, but it's okay, because pretty much no one else does, either. Ten guys in each company would be a generous estimate. Don't worry, I'll learn more the next time we take them out of the motor pool. Which would be gunnery.

At the risk of sounding like that 60-year-old E-7 complaining about how nobody knows how to build tank traps or collect rain using boot laces anymore: The soldiers lack some basic soldier skills. I don't mean all the Skill Level 1 Tasks, which are the Army's helpful benchmark/fantasy of skills all soldiers should have (if you think you're actually at the standard, ask your favorite soldier how to react to depleted uranium). I mean that a number of them can't move under a load very well... which is the most elementary and vital task for infantry other than knowing how to use their weapons. Physical fitness in general is pretty low.

If we went to war here, I assume the Bradleys would get shelled by the North Koreans or probably just break down later, and we'd be on our feet in the mountains. The Brigade (and Division?) Commander must have the same concern, because my company does an extraordinary number of air assault missions considering we're mechanized.

Which suits me just fine, for now, because as you should know, 1) I don't know much about mech, and 2) I'm good at rucking, and now I have a good reason to push the platoon until they're good at it, too.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

First day as PL

After an impressive year-and-a-half of armed camping trips and extracurricular partying funded by the American taxpayer, I am an Infantry Platoon Leader (also, after a mercifully short stint in purgatory... er, staff).

As a new garrison PL, you'll see that if you suddenly evaporated tomorrow, your platoon would continue to function without any disruption (on account of the half-dozen NCOs who have been soldiering since before I hit puberty). However, I will do my best to influence my platoon in a positive way, so that, you know, my existence has a purpose. And, perhaps, one day my veneer of authority could develop into actual authority. But let's not get ahead of ourselves.