USACE team takes on historic mission

by Antwaun J. Parrish, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Far East District
Stripes Korea

DMZ: Since the signing of an armistice between North and South Korea in 1953, which formally ended the Korean War, the two countries have been at odds. In the past few years, a significant amount of effort has been taken in order to bridge the gap between the two Koreas.

Recently, Kirk Baumann and Tom Meeks, a team from the United States Army Corps of Engineers’ (USACE), Engineering and Support Center, traveled from Huntsville, Alabama to South Korea in order to ensure proper removal of mines located at the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) at the Joint Security Area (JSA). The DMZ is located only 35 miles north of Seoul, which is South Korea’s capital city.

Vincent Lee, United States Forces Korea (USFK) Theater Master Planner, ensured that operations were synchronized with the JSA Battalion, the Republic of Korea (ROK) engineers conducting the mine clearing mission, and the USACE team ensuring proper processing.

Lee acknowledged, along with many others, that being a part of the DMZ during this historic time is rewarding.

“The two Koreas, through agreements from their leaders, have come together to initiate the steps to demilitarize the JSA and potentially other areas which will further peace between the two Koreas,” said Lee. “This is something that many have tried multiple times to achieve for more than 60 years.”

According to Lee, the ROK Engineer Battalion commander has been cooperative and easy to work with, along with the U.S., United Nations Command (UNC), and ROK to cooperate with the JSA. He also stated that this mission definitely has built stronger bonds in the way that we do things in our lives, and in our partnership.

Prior to the mine clearing mission of the DMZ, the USACE team conducted training with the ROK Soldiers. Lee stated that all sides who have participated in this operation have learned quite a bit from each other.

“The great thing about this collaborative effort is that we are able to teach the ROK engineers some of our US techniques and procedures,” said Lee. “We are also able to observe some of the techniques of the ROK engineers.”

Kirk Baumann, USACE Engineering and Support Center, stated the mission of clearing mines was a good process with the ROK engineers.

“We haven’t found any UXO [unexploded ordnance] or ERW [explosive remnants of war],” said Baumann.

The mine clearing process is extremely tedious and one must take extreme caution when digging to search for mines. The team has to continually observe and communicate during this process to ensure everyone’s safety.

Baumann stated that although a translator is used between him and the soldiers, he didn’t have any issues that caused a delay in the mission.

The team worked in a few days to complete the mission and is pleased with what they’ve managed to accomplish.

“The ROK soldiers have been disciplined, helpful and professional,” said Baumann. “The soldiers work hard, if we give advice they take it and implement our suggestions.”

The USACE team is proud to have been selected to work on this mission and takes pride in the work they’ve done in an effort to bridge the two Koreas.

“This opportunity is historic and surreal,” said Baumann.

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