DMZ Visit Stresses U.S.-Korea Joint Security
By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
PANMUNJOM, South Korea, Sept. 14, 2004 Forty years ago, Bill Kelley was a young Army second lieutenant, stationed in the Republic of Korea just south of the demilitarized zone that divides communist North Korea and democratic South Korea.
Civilian business, civic, academic and local government
leaders visit the joint-security area in Panmunjom, South Korea, along the
demilitarized zone, Sept. 14. The civilians are participants in the Joint
Civilian Orientation Conference, traveling to U.S. military sites in the
Pacific this week. Photo by Tech. Sgt. Moreen Ishikawa, USAF
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
Today, as vice chairman of the Jelly Belly Candy Company, Kelley returned for the first time since he served here in a target-acquisition battalion to gaze out over the formidable 155-mile stretch of concertina wire, landmines and tension that has divided the Korean peninsula for more than 50 years.
The visit was part of the Joint Civilian Orientation Conference program in which civilian business, civic, academic and local government leaders are traveling throughout the Pacific to see U.S. servicemembers at work.
The program, created in 1948 by the first U.S. defense secretary, James V. Forrestal, introduces civilian "movers and shakers" with little or no military exposure to the workings of the armed forces. Nearly six decades later, it remains DoD's premier civic leader program.
For Kelley, today's visit to the joint-security area at Panmunjom brought back memories of living in austere Quonset huts and working in high-threat conditions that required all servicemembers to keep their weapons loaded.
And while much has changed in the 40 years since Kelley served here particularly in terms of quality-of-life improvements for troops stationed here much has not.
Kelley and the other civilian leaders toured the joint-security area, where U.S. and Republic of Korea troops work 24/7 to ensure that the military armistice agreement that brought a halt to the Korean War in 1953 remains in effect.
The group passed through checkpoints, visited a guard post, stepped into a conference building that periodically hosts peace negotiations and looked out over Propaganda Village, a mock village build by the North Koreans to project the image of prosperity in a country where much of the population goes hungry. Touring the joint-security area, the group also passed the spot where two U.S. Army officers were brutally axed to death by North Korean guards in 1976.
Andy Camacho, chairman and chief executive officer of Camacho Inc., and a participant in the program, said the visit to the DMZ gave him a new appreciation for the tenuous nature of the armistice agreement and the role U.S. servicemembers are playing in maintaining stability in Korea.
"I'm particularly impressed with their commitment," he said. "It's a very serious, delicate situation here, and thank God they're here. What they're doing is the real stuff and it's the right stuff."
Air Force Lt. Gen. Robert R. Dierker, deputy commander of U.S. Pacific Command, said he hopes the visit impressed on the group how little has changed in more than 50 years since the war ended. "In many ways, it's still 1953 here," he said. "I think that is lost on a lot of people until they come here and see it firsthand."
What many people also don't realize until visiting the DMZ, Dierker said, is how diligently the United States and South Korean militaries are working, 365 days a year, to maintain the fragile peace in Korea. "A visit here helps people appreciate the freedoms we have and the hard work our soldiers are doing to help maintain our way of life and the same sort of freedoms for the South Koreans," he said.
And even as more South Koreans, particularly the younger generation, look forward to a future in which their country is no longer divided, Air Force Maj. Gen. Thomas P. Kane, deputy chief of staff for United Nations Command/U.S. Forces Korea, said the alliance between the United States and the Republic of Korea remains as strong as ever.
"This is an alliance born in blood, and we are continuing to protect the security of the Korean Peninsula together," he said.