A/SLT Yang in front of Kwang-Hwa-Moon with actors wearing traditional palace guard costumes.
1st Canadian Division HQ: An Incredible Summer OJT Experience
Article and Photos by A/SLT Nalae Yang, 25057
This past summer I worked at 1st Canadian Division Headquarters for On-the-Job-Training (OJT), where I got the chance to go to South Korea for EXERCISE ULCHI FREEDOM GUARDIAN 2011 as a cultural advisor. This large military exercise focused on the preparation and coordination of the US, the ROK (Republic of Korea) and other nations in case of war between the South Korea and North Korea. This trip meant a lot to me because it was my first time back in South Korea since 2000; I wanted see what had changed.
My 14 day-journey began in Seoul, the capital city of Korea. I was travelling with MGen Ferron, his Aide-de-Camp Capt Glenney and RSM CWO Bezeau. The weather seemed strange as it was foggy and hot early in the afternoon. As we were driving to the Yongsan base in Seoul, I could see the mountains and the rivers placed within the city. Seoul was full of people, cars and tall buildings, just how I remembered it.
We stayed at the Dragon Hill Lodge Hotel located inside the Yongsan base, also known as the US Army Base in Korea. For the first two days, we focused on familiarizing ourselves with the area and on completing personal administration. Our familiarization included an orientation briefing about the upcoming exercise, in which we got to meet other military members from around the globe.For personal administration, we focused on getting our IDs. In the US base, it was very important to have certain IDs on you at all times. I had four different kinds of IDs made and I had to carry them in order to have access to certain places that we were going to visit in Korea.
Starting from day 3, we visited many different places including the DMZ, Kapyung, Osan Air Force Base, Daegu military base and Busan ROK Navy Base. Our tour of the Demilitarized Zone was one of the highlights of the trip. US Army LCol Brennan gave us (military personnel from all over the world) a briefing about Korea and the demilitarized zone (DMZ). For those that are not familiar with this term, the demilitarized zone is the 4km wide strip between the South and North Korea established in 1953 when the South and North Korea signed the military armistice agreement in a blue building called Pan Moon Jum. The demilitarized zone was established along 38 degree latitude, and leaves a gap between the South and the North.
Pan Moon Jum is a blue building located right in the centre of the DMZ, and it is only accessible with special permission. North Korea was informed of our visit in advance to avoid sending them the wrong message. Upon our arrival, all of us were briefed in the US building inside the demilitarized zone. We were told specifically not to wave, point or make any gestures at the North Korean soldiers on their side of the border. As we stood on the staircase in front of the blue building taking pictures, a North Korean soldier on the other side was looking at us with his binocular. Inside the blue building, there was a line made of concrete drawing the border line between the South and the North. We were allowed to cross the line and that meant that I was in North Korea.
The next day our group, including Canadian, British and Australian personnel, followed Canadian Defence Attache Col Moreau to the Kapyung battle site. We were there not only to see the historical site, but to examine the actual place where Canadians fought this battle during the Korean War. The Canadians and the British climbed the mountain and Australians went to examine the nearby site where an Australian unit was also involved in the battle. As we climbed the mountain, we saw some of the trenches the Canadian soldiers had dug and casings from rounds fired during the struggle. I could see clearly that the steep hills would have provided the Canadians with an advantage during the Battle of Kapyong.
Following the tour, we had the chance to visit other bases in Korea. In Seoul, we bought KTX train tickets for five of us, MGen Ferron, Capt Glenney, CWO Bezeau, Lt Gukemus and myself to travel to Busan. We had to travel via train as the original plan to travel by helicopter was cancelled. We arrived in the American base at Daegu, and at that base I found an office area designated as a Multi-National-Coordination Centre(MNCC). While some senior officers were having meetings,I had the opportunity there to watch multinational control exercises and to socialize with different officers all over the world. I had to translate for them from time to time.
Following that, we said good bye to those in Daegu and left for Busan on KTX. Busan is the second biggest city of Korea and an important port. As such, it is “the city of international shipping.” That explained why there were sea containers everywhere. During my previous time in Korea, I had not come to Busan, and I never knew that it was so beautiful. The naval base here is also home to the pride of Korea’s Navy.
There, we found USS Blueridge and HMCS OTTAWA. HMCS OTTAWA had the feeling of home and comfort to it. It was an incredible feeling to see the Canadian ship in Korea. Onboard ship, I recognized four RMC graduates. The evening after our arrival, HMCS OTTAWA hosted a cocktail party, which a number of ROK Navy officers attended. The Canadian charge d’affaire in Korea, Mr. Geoffrey Dean, was also there.
One of the things that stands out to me from this trip is the reality of the situation in which North and South Korea exist, and in particular how close North Korea is to Seoul. Although the exercise was very interesting, the threat of the North Korea was very serious, and never far from my mind. Nonetheless, the trip to Korea was an incredible experience, and I will not forget how valuable every minute of it was.
The Canadian Forces contingent prior to climbing the mountain at Kapyung.