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Sunday, December 2, 2012

POST 1009: DECEMBER 02, 2012; PANMUNJOM, KOREA

I am last to climb down the aircraft boarding ladder. Two Military Policemen walk up to us, salute the officers...follow me, please.   I, duffel bag looped over my shoulder, follow behind the officers.  One of the MPs point to a tent as we pass...you, Airman, report in there.  I step up the single wood step, pull open the screen door.  A army sergeant sits behind a wood desk...a battered table with six chairs in the otherwise empty single room tent.  I hand the sergeant my papers...Airman Maynard reporting as ordered, sir.  The sergeant looks over my papers...welcome to UNC-MAC, Maynard.   He stands, offers his hand...follow me, please.

We walk along a neatly trimmed gravel path;  stones line each side.  The path winds among five or six widely spaced tents.  We  stop before a tent...this will be your living quarters...you are the first to arrive, so you have your pick of spaces.  Report back when you get settled in...thank you, sir.

The tent is much like the one I just left at K-13.  Pea gravel leading to the ten inch high wood step up; wood floor;  three-foot high wood walls all around;  door with Plexiglas window at each end of the open room; screen doors hang inside each door;  eight wood / canvas cots set up end-to -end... four on each side along the wall;  wood foot locker between each cot;  pot bellied oil burning stove dead center - flat steel plate on top;... stove pipe in metal flashing rises through the roof;  wood frame supporting tightly stretched  canvas covers  the entire building;  electric light bulbs hang from the ceiling rafters, one bulb over each cot. 

Standing room is in the center of the room between the two rows of cots. 

I choose the first cot on the right beside the door facing south...the airfield 50 feet away beyond a line of ancient trees...Seoul 30 miles beyond the tree line.

My cot has one pillow and two scratchy brown blankets.  No pillow case...no sheets.  I unpack my duffel, neatly loading the contents into my foot locker.

Everything I own is packed into my foot locker.  I select a fresh khaki Class B uniform and report back to the sergeant.  Settled in, he asks.  Yes, sir.  You will be working here at Base Camp, assigned to General B. staff.  If you will follow me, Maynard, I'll show you to your office. 

Walking the graveled winding path, the Sergeant leads me into a tent...a tent hhigher, wider, and longer; four desks line each side; a single much larger desk cross-wise at the far end; a long wood table with ten chairs stands lengthwise in the center of the open room.  two oil fired pot bellied stoves - each with flat heating plates on top - stand in the center, one on each end of the long table.  Two lights hang from overhead rafters above each desk.

I follow the sergeant, stopping in front of the large desk at the far end.   U.S. Army Brigadier General B. (one star on each collar) sits behind the desk.  I come to attention - feet together, ramrod straight back, head centered, eyes straight ahead, arms stiff at my side, my "cunt" cap firmly under my left armpit.

General, this is Airman Maynard...handing the general my papers.  The general scans my papers, looks me from top to bottom and back up...my eyes riveted on a spot on the wall behind the generals left shoulder.   Thank you, sergeant...that will be all.  Yes, sir, comes to attention, makes a smart about face and disappears behind me.  At ease, Maynard.  my eyes move to the generals face...the rest of me at "parade rest" - relaxed, but unmoving.  Welcome to UNC-MAC Base Camp, Maynard.   So you are my administration team member...you go to tech school?    No, sir.  Where did you receive your training?  In high school, sir.  You have been to no technical training school?  No, sir.  Where have you been assigned?  I worked in the Orderly Room during basic training, sir...then I was assigned as Stenographer Specialist to the Office Of The Staff Judge Advocate, Sheppard Air Force Base, Wichita Falls, Texas, sir...then to K-13, 8th Fighter Bomber Wing, Headquarters Office, reporting to Lt. Colonel S., Wing Adjutant. 

Any other administration experience, Maynard.  Yes, sir...I worked in the office my Junior and Senior year at Kennewick High School...and helped my mother in the office of our trucking company in Pasco, Washington.

How old are you, Maynard?  17, sir.  Impressive.  Well, Maynard, let's meet the rest of our team.

Following the general, I am introduced to two  US Army Lt. Colonels, two  US Army Majors, and one US Navy Lieutenant; each welcome me, extending their hands which I shake...thank you, sir...thank you, sir...thank you, sir...thank you, sir...thank you, sir. 

Lieutenant (J.) is your new boss.    Our little group is about to become very busy, Maynard.  We are pleased to have you join us.  This - extending his hand toward the first desk on the left of the door I entered - is your office;  anything you need...any questions, Lt J. here, is your man.   My office is always open to you, Maynard...extending his hand, which I accept...good luck.

Lt. J. spends the rest of the day with me.  I receive an overview of the mission of our staff...directly supporting the UNC-MAC negotiators at the Panmunjom peace talks.  We walk around the entire Base Camp, divided into three general areas...Officer Country, Visitor area, and Enlisted area.  All buildings are tents with wood floors, except for the new Theatre - Conference Center...a large  wood building standing not 50 feet from my own living quarters.  The Conference Center is an auditorium with about 150 chairs and a stage at one end.  The airfield is on the south side of the Base Camp...on the north side is a helicopter landing zone, large enough to handle a number of aircraft at one time.  All travel to Panmunjom is by helicopter from this spot.

Linking the Base Camp are continuous gravel paths.  At irregular intervals along the paths are round metal tubes...a wire screen fastened to the open top... partially buried at 45 degree angles in the ground, surrounded by a circle of crushed gravel.  Lt. J. explains...these are piss tubes...actually expended 155mm Howitzer Shells with holes punched in the bottom; very functional for our all-male staff...a bit awkard for the growing number of female visitors.

The Base Camp is neat as a pin.  There is no fence around Base Camp.  The Communist's have their Base Camp on the north side of the DMZ (Demilitarized Zone), which more or less straddles the 38th Parallel east-west across the width of the Korean Peninsula.  By bi-lateral agreement (both sides agree), both Base Camps are strictly OFF LIMITS to any enemy activity. 

The war continues to rage along the DMZ, guns firing night and day, but Base Camps are inviolate.  Lights are on all night.  Bed Check Charlie does not come near our Base Camp.   The occasional artillery round does, however, find its way to us.

Base Camp staff are free to move about the camp.  Written orders are required to leave the area.  Loaded weapons are to be carried by anyone leaving...no weapons are carried on Base Camp grounds.

The next many months find me stretching a number of the "rules".

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Good reading