On the town with the U.S. military in Korea

By Kevin Heldman

 

A mile or so outside of Yongsan U.S. Army Garrison in central Seoul, past the tourist shops and street vendors selling Bulls, Raiders, et al., apparel, past the Burger King and the newly-opened Orange Julius and down a series of narrow roadways packed with American soldiers who are falling in and out of scores of ramshackle clubs--Cadillac Bar, Love Cupid, Texas Club, Boston Club, the King Club, the Palladium, the Grand Ole’ Opry--is one of the 180 GI camptowns that exist outside of every significantly sized military base in South Korea. Or, in the clever catchy jargon of the 37,000 U.S. troops stationed here to help keep the peace--Downrange.

On any given night in Itaewon women prostitutes hang out at club doors soliciting GIs; one part come-on, one part contempt. An old Korean woman, hands clasped behind her back, spends the night strolling up and down Hooker Hill, approaching young GIs and asking "Lady?" as the GI, after questioning How much? and How old? follows her up the hill and down an alley.

In the club eight drunk GIs are huddled together, jumping on top of one another on the dance floor while next to them Korean women dance with each other pretending oblivion. A sergeant holds up his beer mug and says with made-for-TV despair, "This got me here, this is keeping me here."

A Korean woman outside a hostess club is yelling at a young soldier, "Get out, get out of here." The GI has his foot in the door, responding periodically with "bitch," "asshole." When he finally storms away she hisses after him, "Go home, your mommy will feed you."

A GI is in the middle of the street with his buddies, pummeling another GI and screaming, "I'm your worst nightmare," until MPs arrive.

A black soldier who’s a member of NFL (Niggas for Life)--a group complete with NFL baseball caps (banned by the Army command) and a member nicknamed O-Dog, who’s looking for payback over last nights brawl--is outside a club telling the story of how a short while ago some of NFL encountered a group of white soldiers sitting on the curb. The white soldiers made a mock plea for money ("Help the poor"). Words were exchanged. One white soldier used the word "boy." A fight ensued and NFL "Grabbed that white boy by the throat and BAM BAM." He demonstrates how the white soldier, dazed and wobbling, crumpled to the ground, as NFL tae kwon doed him in the face to finish him off. He told parts of the story over and over, occasionally interrupting himself with the exuberant, self-conscious pop psychology riff: "I had my sex tonight."

Since the advent of the all-volunteer military in 1973, the enlisted ranks have been a place for young people with limited prospects; those looking to escape bad neighborhoods, bad families, and bad job markets.

A 1993 survey of new recruits found that they come from homes where 78.4 percent of fathers and 84.5 percent of mothers didn’t have college degrees. They come from the ranks of the unemployed, working in dead-end jobs as cashiers, in factories, at fast food franchises. A 1994 Rand study on Army recruiting trends listed the youth unemployment rate, which has risen almost 27 percent since 1989, as by far the most significant factor affecting the army's ability to attract high quality recruits.

The Department of Defense spends $207 million a year on advertising to reach this market and to pitch life in the military as an amalgam of vocational school, outward bound, and character building camp replete with benefits. A way out and up. But for many of the 176,000 new troops the U.S. military recruits each year, the promise of employment opportunities, education, and a better life often aren't realized. According to a recent Government Accounting Office (GAO) report, one out of every three recruits doesn’t even complete the first term of enlistment. The base pay for a private is $199 a week before taxes and according to a Department of Defense Quality of Life report, in a recent year 11,000 military families overseas were eligible for food stamps.

Military recruiting literature states that offering money for college is the ."..single most important product that they [recruiters] have to entice people into the military these days." Approximately 95 percent of the Army’s new recruits sign up for the Montgomery GI Bill, where you contribute a nonrefundable $1,200 into the program and (if you meet a number of conditions and qualify for certain bonuses) can earn up to $30,000 for college. But a significant number of these men and women are paying into a program they may never use. Though the military spins the numbers a variety of ways, the bottom line, according to the Department of Veterans Affairs, is that 2.03 million service members have contributed into the program since it began in 1985, and to date only about 436,000 have actually used the benefits. Of those soldiers who did use it when they left the service, their average payment has amounted to about $7,000 dollars, $1200 of which was their own money. A substantially lower sum than the "$30,000 for college" that the military uses in its advertising.

As for character building, the military model is in vogue today, invoked for everything from rehabilitating youthful offenders in boot camps to graduating wayward high school students. In some cities applicants for the police force are allowed to substitute 2 years of military service for a required 60 college credits. The military also makes a point of grandstanding on morality issues, like the argument that allowing gay soldiers to enlist would be bad for morale, recently defeated legislation that would discharge all soldiers who tested HIV-positive, new legislation intended to ban the sale of pornography anywhere on U.S. military property, and disallowing abortions at military hospitals.

 

But in actuality, the military is an institution beset by a variety of destructive behaviors in the enlisted ranks. In interviews with scores of soldiers, the predominant theme that emerges is that they feel neglected and betrayed by an institution that hasn’t met their expectations and isn’t concerned with their welfare. And they’ve responded in kind. Soldier after soldier tell stories of assaults, sexual violence, gang activity, serious alcohol and drug abuse, suicide, psychiatric problems, and racial hostility.

The statistics bear these anecdotes out. The military has a rate of heavy drinking for soldiers 18 to 25 years old twice as high as the civilian rate. A recent survey revealed that 5 percent of active duty personnel answered "yes" to the question of whether they've been the victim of actual or attempted rape or sexual assault in the last 12 months. In the last year there were 83 reported homicides and reports of gang activity at over 50 stateside bases.

And there have been a steady stream of incidents: soldiers with white supremacist ties are arrested for killing a black couple in North Carolina; a soldier is sentenced to death for opening fire on a formation, killing 1 and injuring 18, explaining, "I wanted to send a message to the chain of command that had forgotten the welfare of the common soldier"; 10 black soldiers at Fort Bragg beat a white GI into a coma off post near an IHOP; a soldier at Fort Campbell rammed his vehicle into a crowd of fighting soldiers and civilians killing 2 people; 2 soldiers are shot dead, one injured at Fort Riley Kansas, the second double homicide at the base in less than a year; 14 service members are arrested for smuggling cocaine and heroin; 23 women working at Fort Bliss military post file a class-action complaint charging that they have been harassed to pose nude or perform sexual acts; in Japan a service member is accused of exposing himself to a 6th grade girl; 4 others are sentenced for raping a 14-year-old girl; another service member is arrested for slashing the throat of a Japanese woman and stealing her purse; 2 marines are arrested for assaulting and robbing a 56-year-old another Japanese woman; and a 12-year-old girl in Okinawa is raped by 3 servicemen, inciting a protest of more than 50,000 people.

A 1995 study by the Defense Advisory Committee on Women in the Services surveyed male and female soldiers stationed in 18 different installations overseas and found substantial alcohol problems, high levels of physical assaults (men on men), sexual assaults, racial hostility, depression, discipline problems, low morale, and on some bases a high number of suicide attempts and soldiers on anti-depressant drugs.

These are young men and women who are shipped to countries they know little about and have little interest in, who are disconnected from their culture and their families and arrive overseas with a misguided sense of superiority because of their role as a protecting force. Yet they find themselves ghettoized in GI camptowns, on the bottom rung of society economically, denied entrance to clubs, bypassed by taxis, protested against, regarded on the street with wariness or utterly ignored--second-class citizens in their own country, they’re sent overseas to be treated like second-class citizens in other people's countries.

 

I meet my Pentagon appointed public affairs contact, Jim Coles, Chief of Public Information for U.S. Forces in Korea (to be referred to hereafter as Public Affairs) at Yongsan Army Garrison in central Seoul, Command Headquarters for the Republic of Korea/U.S. Combined Forces.

A civilian employee of the Army, Public Affairs is the official source of information on relations between U.S. soldiers and Koreans and is regularly quoted in stateside newspapers and appears on CNN and NPR as a spokesman for the military. He's an ex-military man who doesn't seem too keen on helping me report. His attitude is basically: Reporter, shut your mouth and listen to me, there are absolutely no problems here.

His attitude is consistent with the army chain of command’s reluctance to acknowledge any type of deviant behavior in the ranks. Every incident is dismissed as an aberration, a few bad apples.

Public Affairs keeps me waiting in his office as he talks openly to his buddy on the phone about where to get a good Korean prostitute nowadays. He complains that some of these girls won't even touch an American guy now, preferring the rich Koreans and Japanese with their BMWs and asks rhetorically if his buddy can imagine how it feels to be snubbed by a whore.

Public Affairs insists that all the problems between GIs and Koreans are caused by the irresponsible reporting of the Korean press. In May 1995 a large brawl broke out among American soldiers and Korean passengers on a subway train, the latest incident in a series of crimes involving GIs and Koreans. Eight months later, when the issue was still resonating in the press, Public Affairs’ stateside newspaper quote was: "The American guys were giving better than they were getting."

He tells me I can only interview soldiers with an escort present and dumps me off to a 25-year-old Second Lieutenant, Maya Danforth, who's been in Korea for 15 months. She's getting out of the Army in 23 days and is supposed to be my PR guide.

A short while into a conversation it turns out Lieutenant Danforth doesn't think much of the Army. "They try to break you and if they can't break you they get rid of you. That's what's happening to me," she says.

Danforth tells me she didn’t get along with her company commander (who's since been discharged from the Army) and who retaliated by sending her for a psychiatric evaluation. She says the commander had half the company in alcohol rehab, the other half seeing psychiatrists.

On being stationed in Korea, Danforth complains that there is absolutely nothing for soldiers to do but drink and there is nobody here who really cares about the welfare of the soldier. "The army doesn't have morality principles," Danforth says, "They have principles based on is somebody going to get killed and am I going to get in trouble because they got killed.

In South Korea, where the U.S. military has been a presence since 1950, there are approximately 98 installations spread throughout the country--from small camps close to the North Korean border to posts that are closer to small towns, complete with golf driving ranges and mini-malls, all closed to non-military personnel.

The hostility and separation between Koreans and American soldiers is palpable, off-post as well as on.

In the barracks the KATUSAs As (Korean soldiers assigned to U.S. military units) and the American soldiers are almost completely segregated, living in different rooms, with little interaction. American soldiers call the KATUSAs gophers, insist they're weird, gay, have no respect for their rank, and are vaguely annoyed by the fact that they speak a different language and eat "strange" food.

American soldiers say Korean men are jealous because they get all their women. They call them gooks and mock their language during protests: "Yankee Go America," "Go Hell."

Last year there were over 861 reported offenses committed by American service members involving the Korean public. The most recent incident was the September 11 arrest of Pvt. Eric Munnich, a 22-year-old soldier, who confessed to strangling Lee Ki Sun, a 44-year-old Korean woman, allegedly over an argument about payment for sex.

And there have been a steady diet of incidents, seldom reported in the stateside press, that have reinforced the tension. In the last year there has been regular protests and demonstrations by Korean nationals outside of U.S. military bases, including 9 days of campus protests involving over 7,000 students, demanding among other things the removal of U.S. troops. There has been a fire bombing of a U.S. housing complex, 8 GIs were accused of beating two South Korean men who were trying to break up their fight with a cab driver, an 18-year-old soldier was arrested for the aggravated assault of a 48-year-old Korean woman outside of a club, another soldier was arrested for breaking and entering and attempted rape, yet another was accused of raping and beating a bar hostess, a civilian employee of the Army was arrested for beating a Korean woman who later died of her injuries and a host of other arrests and accusations.

In 1993, the brutal rape and murder of a Korean woman, Kum E. Yoon, by an American soldier, Private Kenneth Markle--a name now recognized throughout Korea--led to widespread outrage and protests. Her murder led to the formation of a Korean organization called The National Campaign to Eliminate Crimes by U.S. Military in Korea which keeps track of crimes committed by military personnel in Korea, and is involved in activism against military abuses.

 

At one camp I sat with Specialist Jim Ahnefeld, and Private Skaarup on a curb outside their office on post. They say they're not working their MOS (Military Occupational Specialty) and that they basically do nothing all day.

"Ninety-eight percent of E-4's and below are dissatisfied, this place is a joke," Ahnefeld says, and ridicules the idea that the army wants a smarter recruit today, "We run around mopping floors, cleaning things; they want a smarter army so we can really think about that floor."

After high school Ahnefeld spent 3 years as a civilian where he said he worked 15 to 20 dead end jobs; supermarkets, warehouses, Sears, construction, driving a school bus, a tow truck. He thinks the government has too much control and that the military tries to brainwash people about humanitarian missions when it's really about oil and economics. He also feels he's been treated unfairly by the army and complains "I'm an American, I don't have to take being treated like a dog."

 

Skaarup, who is white, recently got into a fight with a black GI and admits in front of his black superiors that he used the "N word" but he didn't mean it, just the heat of the moment. As a result Skaarup had to go to drug and alcohol counseling where he said all they do is ask you how much you drink. He said he lied. He said that he came in the army for his people not the Korean people, complains that because of regulations he can't hit Koreans in a fight, he can't defend himself, that we shouldn't be over here and refers to South Korea as the property of the United States.

On another post in the city of Taegu, I met members of the RATT (Radio, Telephone and Teletype) Platoon, a group of mostly white enlisted soldiers who work an MOS which they've imbued with a certain pride. Before the military they worked as managers at Burger King, at McDonalds, as roofers and laugh about being stoned when they took the ASVAB (the military entrance exam). When they get out they want to be police officers and have vague plans about college.

They're against welfare, okay with gays in the military, talk about "fag bars" being off limits and the whole hall full of dykes that used to be in the barracks and constantly direct Mexican jokes to the one Mexican soldier in their unit.

 

 

"I'm in it for something, and it's not for patriotism. I'm in it to get mine, just like they're in it to get theirs," says Specialist Joseph Eatman, a 26-year-old soldier and one of the founders of NFL.

I first met members of NFL, who number about ten, on a Saturday morning in the barracks in Yongsan. In addition to Eatman there is Specialist Bill Smith, 23-years-old with four years in the Army, and Specialist Kenyett Johnson who is 24-years-old, has 5 years in the Army and a wife in the states. Johnson and Smith both repair communication security equipment.

I ask who joins the army today.

"People with nothing better to do," Eatman says.

Smith, an intelligent, funny kid who occasionally feels obligated to pretend he is or was a criminal, says that after he graduated from high school he sat around and did nothing, briefly working as a cashier at Target. He says he didn't really attend high school, joined the Army to "stay out of jail, stay out of trouble."

"The army traps you in a certain way too, "Eatman says, "because you get in the Army and you can get all the credit in the world, and by the time it's time to get out you can't, you gotta have a job to pay off all these bills. You get started partying all the time, you don't go to school. I'm going to school right now, I'm not even using my GI Bill or College Fund and they're giving me tuition assistance. There's a lot you can take advantage of, but you have to ask, you have to know, you have to look into it yourself, because they're not going to tell you."

I ask about drinking in the Army.

The room erupts into laughter

Eatman and Smith both said their recruiters encouraged them to lie about their civilian drug use when they enlisted and they did.

"In the states, oh, man, our unit, we had them [urine analysis tests] every other week and they were kicking people out right and left," Eatman says. "We were supposed to go support Panama but we couldn't because we were too high on the drug blotter," meaning there were too many soldiers who had tested positive for drugs.

As for gangs in the military, Eatman says, "This is just like home, people trying to go international and get a rep," alternately amused and a bit worried that NFL evolved from fraternity to the quasi gang that it is now.

They do tell me that they know a lot of people who were in gangs, joined the military and continue to live the lifestyle.

Eatman offers a few examples, "I was in situations at Fort Carson [Colorado] at a club on post. I had a red RIP T-shirt on and a corporal came up to me wanting to fight, saying this is 111 neighborhood, you know, it's on. He's still claiming his old set. I told him I gave that up a long time ago, I don't bang no more...[In another incident] We were at this club, The Step, and these 2 military guys they drew guns on each other outside. One had a silencer on a Mac 10, another had a 9 millimeter."

He says one of those soldiers who pulled a gun was involved in another dispute. "This guy came back with a whole bunch of people, they were all getting out of the car. And with no qualms, my friend just got out, just started shooting. And he was Army. They still got that mentality. He didn't hit nobody, he didn't get caught, and he's still boxing at Ft. Carson."

Eatman was recently called in by the Sergeant Major to sign a statement against a 26-year old white soldier who threatened to kill his First Sergeant, the staff in the First Sergeant’s office, and the colonel. The soldier first made the threat to Eatman and showed him the knife he was going to use. He’s now committed to a psychiatric ward on post.

NFL describes him as "country," and says he always talked about making bombs and was in the historic cavalry in his last unit. They call him McVeigh and laugh. Although just the other night NFL was involved in a brawl at a club Downrange over soldiers throwing gang signs, in actuality, NFL is less a gang than a group of young men with not a lot to engage them, who are in an environment that lends itself to going Downrange and playing warrior.

In the Army, where 41 percent of the enlisted personnel are non-white, the allegiances tend to fall across racial lines. Beside NFL, there are white groups like the Wild Ass Cowboys and the Silver Star Outlaws, Latinos in La Raza and throughout the camptowns in Korea and on base, the clubs are de facto segregated, racially divided by terms like "hick night" and "R&B night."

An NFL soldier from Watts says, "I know there's something that goes on behind closed doors. I can hear how white folks talk about Koreans. I could just hear them talking about black people like that. They talk about Koreans like, ‘Look at them, look at these people’."

In one camptown I run into a soldier who's wearing a leather jacket covered with biker patches and an FTW patch. I make small talk with him, tell him who I am, what I'm doing, and he tells me he's a 29-year-old sergeant in the military police, stationed at the nearby base (this was confirmed when he ran into several of his MP colleagues who were on duty and addressed him as such). We spend some time talking, going to different bars. After a while he tells me he rides with a 1 percent (outlaw) motorcycle club back home, which he refers to generically as the Brotherhood. He says he pledged before he joined the military and always lets the club know where he’s stationed.

After some more time together he tells me he was CID (the Army’s Criminal Investigation Division) and spent four years undercover in the States and Europe, with long hair, civilian clothes, and a fake ID card, working drug interdiction. He says he took down about 19 MPs who were dirty, and arrested officers and First Sergeants for dealing and trafficking drugs. He quit when they wanted him to inform on the Brotherhood.

On military crime statistics he says, "They bury so much shit you can't tell what's true," adding that the unit commander can deal with some crimes through non-judicial punishment (issue what is called an Article 15, which can include reduction in rank, forfeiture of pay and confinement to post or barracks), and the incidents wouldn’t show up in the crime statistics.

On his post he estimates there's about three assaults a day, 1 suicide attempt at least every other week and a sexual assault or rape every two weeks. He said at his last duty station in the States, in a typical week they'd confiscate 22 to 25 knives and guns like Tech-9s, Mac-10s and sawed off shotguns, usually from soldiers’ cars.

He gave me his name but I agreed not to use it. He said, half-jokingly, that when he gets out he wants to grow his hair long, kick back, get stoned and talk bad about the government.

The cynicism, the antipathy toward the military and the level of dysfunction is pervasive among the American soldiers in Korea. The place where this is most in evidence is also the place that is the center of military force in Korea: Camp Casey.

Casey is home to the 2nd Infantry Division, a high security combat arms post, located about 12 miles from the Demilitarized Zone. It’s a 19,000 acre expanse of nondescript brick buildings and Quonset hut-like structures that resembles the grounds of a penitentiary, housing close to 8,000 soldiers. It’s been visited by Presidents Bush and Clinton, who referred to it as, "The frontier of freedom." It’s where soldiers have kept telling me I should go because that's the real Army, the infantry, hard-core.

Casey is a place that has been involved in a variety of incidents, including where Pvt. Markle was stationed when he murdered Kum E. Yoon in Tongduchon. The recent murder of Lee Ki Sun also took place in a room near the base. A month before I arrived there was a midnight curfew downtown. A short time afterward, about 400 local merchants scuffled with riot police during a protest outside of the gate to the base. Soldiers have nicknamed a club outside of post the "Stab or Jab."

Public Affairs denies me access to Casey, saying that the General in charge is one of those old military men who still view the press as the enemy (when Clinton spoke at Casey, reporters were not allowed to interview any soldiers except those hand-picked by the military public affairs office).

I got somebody to sign me on to the post with his temporary military ID.

On the base I met Brandon Sexton, a 20-year-old from East Tennessee who just arrived in Korea. We walk across the post to his room in the 2nd Battalion 72nd Armor barracks. I sat down with him and PFC James Lewis, a shy 20-year-old from Rhode Island.

Sexton joined the Army three months after high school. "I never did think about anything else I could do," he says. He tells the familiar story of his recruiting process: "He [his recruiter] asked me [if I smoked marijuana] and I said ‘Yeah.’ He looked at me and he asked me again and I said ‘Yeah.’ Then he looked at me and asked me again and I said ‘No,’ and he wrote down ‘No.’ I thought that was kind of weird."

Lewis has been in country 10 and a half months and says he used to go to church all the time before he got to Korea. He's on a two year tour and is not going to reenlist. "After basic I was like fuck this shit, I want to go to college," he says. He also says when he gets out he wants to do something in law enforcement. "Maybe FBI or something...I'm an adventurous person, I want to do something that's a little bit crazy like a cop in DC or drug trafficking patrol, SWAT team, something like that."

About the rape case in Okinawa they both feel strongly that the military shouldn't turn the defendants over to the Japanese government. Lewis didn’t know the victim was 12-years-old. When he finds out he’s disgusted. "That's pretty bad, just go get a friggin' whore," he says, unknowingly echoing the comments of Adm. Richard Macke commander of all U.S. military operations in the Pacific who was forced to take early retirement for making a strikingly similar remark.

Their daily routine consists of waking at 5:30, doing physical training, cleaning their rooms and the common areas and after breakfast going to nine o’clock formation. Afterward, they go to the motor pool where they sit inside their tanks every day, all day, doing nothing or sleeping, occasionally acting busy if someone comes by. Or they go up to their rooms and play Nintendo.

 

Word spread in the barracks that there was a reporter present and soon there was a steady stream of soldiers coming into the room, all extremely eager to make it known that life in the military is not what people think it is, not what they thought it was.

Specialist Sean Pruitt joined the Army at 20, after he spent two years after high school "Drinking, smoking and getting in trouble." He said he was on the streets, staying with friends and had to do something with his life. He was in the Marines delayed entry program where he got waivers for LSD use, but while he was waiting to ship out, he told the recruiter he experimented with crack cocaine and they rejected him. He then joined the Army. He said he told the recruiter about the Marines incident, but the recruiter told him not to mention it.

"This place is a shithole," Pruitt says. "You get that many people over here angry, fucked up, feed them some alcohol, people are bound to fight. Plus you got to live with these people, smell their shit. I mean you see the same people every day."

Pruitt continues, "I roped this guy the other night...this punk who lives across the hall. I tried to pull his fucken head off."

"He almost killed him," Private Michael Waldron says, "I thought he was gonna' break his fucken neck" and adds that a number of people had to come in and pull Pruitt off, to stop him from choking the other soldier.

Sexton describes a recruit in basic training who was suspected of being gay and was given what’s called a blanket party. "He was kind of tubby and always lagging behind on runs, couldn't do his work right...Drill Sergeants would call him fat ass and all kinds of shit," he says.

"He got pretty messed up. They shoved a pillow on his head and they just went to punchin' on him," Sexton says. The next morning the soldier went on sick call and two weeks later he left the Army.

Waldron, 23-years-old, joined the Army because "When I got out of high school jobs sucked." He served for two years and extended for six months because of the Gulf War.

He got out, joined the National Guard, got married and lived in a trailer in Georgia where he was working in construction, roofing, aluminum siding. He got divorced from his wife, his car died, he failed the police officer test, had to move back with his parents and after being out of active duty for two years, reenlisted.

"I hate Korea, I hate this fucken place," Waldron says. "We're not really appreciated here by the nationals. We don't want to be here and they don't want us here but yet the military wants us here."

Waldron, who says, "The majority of Korea that I've seen was the inside or the outside of a Budweiser beer can," just lost a rank for coming on post a few minutes after curfew and said he's been getting "hammered" every night because he just had his drinking privileges reinstated.

"They look to fuck you any way they can," Waldron says of the Army.

"That's why I'm getting out, they don't care about us, we're as disposable as fuck to them," Pruitt says.

They all complain about not having equipment or having shoddy equipment, about training accidents like the tank that rolled down a hill a few months ago, crushing a barracks and killing a soldier sleeping in his room.

"Everybody thinks, ‘Oh, the Army's the nation's fuckin security system,’ and shit--it's a fucken joke," Pruitt says. "When you wait for nine months for a part to come in, to get your weapon, vehicle or anything off of deadline status and you're supposed to use this thing in a war... then when you get the part, half the time it's the wrong fuckin part," says Matt Czaja, a 22-year-old infantryman.

Czaja is not the typical disgruntled soldier. He and his twin brother Mike, joined six months apart. Matt says he joined the Army to make his father proud, because he was patriotic and to repay a debt.

Matt says his first roommate at Fort Lewis was a self described neo-Nazi with an SS tattoo who talked about killing the chairman of the North Carolina NAACP. The soldier’s friends would come to the room ("white males, hate-because-of-reverse-discrimination" types, Matt says) to drink beer and watch neo-Nazi propaganda videos.

Mike says when he was stationed at Ft. Stewart in Georgia he was assigned to parking lot patrol because soldiers were breaking into cars and stealing radios. One night four or five M.P. cars pulled up and ordered him to get out of the area because there was some GI running around in boxer shorts and shower shoes, wielding two nine millimeters.

This wasn’t the Army they expected and Mike, who originally joined for a career, realized the military life wasn’t for him and is getting out, as is his brother. "These are the only two experiences that I've had here in Korea that made me actually feel like, whoa, some people actually do care for the fact that I'm wasting a year and a half of my life...these two guys were the only ones who seemed like they actually gave a fuck." he says. He finally reduces all the political and cultural issues surrounding the experience of the GI overseas to what it often comes down to, the personal: "Koreans think we're good enough to fight their war, they think we're good enough to die for their country, but we’re not good enough to date their women."

When he told a sergeant that he wasn’t reenlisting the sergeant asked him mockingly, "What are you gonna’ do when you get out, go work at McDonalds?"

And Mike Czaja, the good American boy who loves his country, who joined the Army for all the reasons described in the brochures, who even bought his own tools for his track-vehicle and is leaving them so the next soldier will have them, responded with what he probably had no intention of ever saying before he joined, "When I get out, if I was flipping burgers at McDonalds at least I'd be wearing a uniform I was proud of."

BIO

 

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