Last letter home

Amid all the hoopla as the mainstream press and America-haters all but celebrate the milestone of 2000 deaths in Iraq, I have seen next to nothing written about what the ultimate sacrafice of these brave troops has accomplished. Well, the liberation of 27 million is no small thing. But that’s just me talking, and I’m not there and no one in my family has given their life for a free Iraq, so who am I to say it has been worth it?

CPL Jeffrey B. Starr did go to Iraq. Three times. And did not return alive. His name was featured in the New York Times “grim milestone” piece, but oddly enough the Times chose not to include the words from a letter to CPL Starr’s girlfriend discovered when his laptop was returned to his family. Since CPL Starr gave his life in the service of his country, I will let his words speak for me on whether what we are doing in Iraq is worth the cost:

Obviously if you are reading this then I have died in Iraq. I kind of predicted this, that is why I’m writing this in November. A third time just seemed like I’m pushing my chances. I don’t regret going, everybody dies but few get to do it for something as important as freedom. It may seem confusing why we are in Iraq, it’s not to me. I’m here helping these people, so that they can live the way we live. Not have to worry about tyrants or vicious dictators. To do what they want with their lives. To me that is why I died. Others have died for my freedom, now this is my mark.

I understand that many people can’t grasp the ideals for which CPL Starr gave his life. I sometimes wish that it was not our nations place in history to be defenders of liberty. But if not us, then who? With great power, comes great responsibility. To turn our backs on tyranny and oppression would do dishonor to the generations of Americans who have died in defense of freedom throughout the world. And who can honestly dispute that a free Iraq and Afghanistan makes the world (and selfishly the U.S.) a safer place?

Rest in peace, CPL Starr. It WAS worth it.

Hat Tip: Michelle Malkin

They love U.S., they love U.S. not…

It was great to get a comment from an old blog buddy, Susanna Cornett of Cut on the bias fame. She’s actually my “blogmother” (the person most responsible for my foray into the blogging world). I sent her a long email giving my perspective on the the state of the Korean-American relationship these days. As usual, someone else said it better. Head over to GI Korea and see his post on a recent pro-U.S. rally. It was a much larger turnout than the highly publicized anti-MacArthur statute travesty in Incheon, but of course you wouldn’t really know that from most media accounts.

Things are not always as they appear, and while I have met some Koreans who are not fond of the antics of some of our soldiers (I’m talking about the 1% who misbehave and tarnish the image of everyone), they do seem to have a genuine fondness for the miguks among them, and they certainly love most things American. I still can’t stop laughing when I see Korean rappers on TV. It’s like a Saturday Night Live skit. Hey, imitation is the greatest form of flattery, right?

Oh yeah, while you are over at GI Korea’s place, be sure to read about Hillary Clinton’s views on this subject.

Pomp and Circumstance

Today was the big event to honor the USFK Civilians of the Year. GEN LaPorte did the presentations, we also had the Honor Guard and Army band. Ok, I admit it. I eat that stuff up. It was all very impressive, we had great weather, and I think the honorees were very moved by the ceremony. Afterwards, we had a nice reception at the Dragon Hill Lodge. GEN LaPorte and LTG Campbell both came by and were very gracious. This is a big deal and a lot of work goes it to making it happen. When I first got to Korea I was told you DON’T WANT TO SCREW THIS UP! A predecessor some years back had, and her time in Korea ended shortly thereafter. Anyway, Corine and Ms. Yi on my team took the lead on covering all the details and did an outstanding job. As their supervisor I get some reflected glory, but I counted on them and they did not let me down.

Speaking of LTG Campbell, I was with him yesterday too at the quarterly Korean Employees Union luncheon. He gave some insights on Secretary Rumsfeld’s visit, which I am not at liberty to share here. He did say the SECDEF left the peninsula in high spirits. So take that as you will.

I’ve praised the KEU in the past as the most professional union I have had the opportunity to work with, and I’ve been in this business for longer than I care to admit (ok, 25 years). At the conclusion of the luncheon, Mr. Kang, In Sik, the President of the union, presented LTG Campbell with 37 million Won his membership had donated for the victims of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. Campbell said that this was a further demonstration of the genorisity of the Korean people, and he told Mr. Kang that people in the US and especially the Gulf coast would appreciate and remember the helping hand of our friends in Korea.

LTG Campbell also told us that he had attended a Korean Methodist Church on Sunday and the Pastor asked him to address the congregation. He related how 50 years ago young Americans came to an unfamiliar land to fight for the freedom of a people they did not know. And today Korea has risen from the ruins of that devastating war to become a powerful nation, both ecomomically and militarily. And the Korean nation has also matured diplomatically to the point where today young Koreans are deployed to an unfamiliar land to fight for the freedom of a people they don’t know. And 50 years from now the citizens of Iraq and Afghanistan will remember those sacrafices made on their behalf.

In case you haven’t guessed, I am really glad that I have had the opportunity to be here and witness first hand all the good we have done for our Korean brothers and to see them stand up for the cause of freedom. HooAh!

A visit from Don Rumsfeld

Yesterday I had the opportunity to attend a “town hall” meeting with Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. It was quite the event here on Yongsan. The town hall was intended for soldiers and their families, but they let a few of us civilians attend too. I had a great seat and view, even had the opportunity to reach out and shake his hand after the event, but I demured to allow the folks in uniform that honor.

It was a pep talk for the troops for the most part, but a couple of points the SECDEF made resonated with me. First, our troops are doing an amazing job in Iraq. And job one right now is getting the Iraqi security forces trained up and ready to assume responsibilty for defending Iraq. He said there are now more than 200,000 in the field with more coming on each day. He also noted that it was primarily the Iraqi forces who successfully provided security for last weeks contitution voting.

He also made the point that Iraq is now a sovriegn nation and attacks there are not attacks on an occupying army, but are attacks against Iraq. And the Iraqi people are increasingly taking the lead on dealing with the insurgents head on. We will stay as long as the government of Iraq wants our assistance, but the utlimate responsibilty for secruing the peace depends on the courage and willingess of the Iraqis to confront those among them who prefer violence to democracy. Rumsfeld said that calls to tip lines identifying terrorist hideouts have gone off the charts recently, which is a good sign that we have turned an important corner in this effort.

I also thought his comments regarding the Korean war were noteworthy. He said when President Truman left office in 1952 his approval rating was around 25%. People were questioning why Americans were dying to defend democracy on the other side of the world. Today, Truman is rightfully considered a great leader and the ROK has the world’s tenth largest economy in terms of GNP. No one questions that our efforts here were worth it, even at the cost of 40,000 American lives. Rumsfeld believes (and I concur) that in 50 years no one will question that whether our involvement in bringing freedom to Iraq was worthwhile.

During the questions and answer session, a soldier asked why we were not doing a better job in countering the media portrayal of our efforts in Iraq. Rumsfeld acknowledged that our enemy is a master at manipulating the media. He said we cannot be defeated on the battlefield, so our enemies are working to undermine the will of the people to pursue the war. He recalled how Mark Twain had said “a lie travels the world three times before truth gets its boots on”. The answer to this problem is to rely on the collective wisdom of a free and democratic people to listen and watch and come to the right decision. He said throughout our history Americans have demonstrated this ability to discern the truth. He noted that this is the first war were we had things like the Internet and other forms of mass communication. And while the media has been manipulated, he is confident that people will ultimately recongize what is really happening.

I hope he is right about that. I know when I talk to people who only get their news of the world from MSM sources, they tend to be much more negative about our prospects in defeating the terrorists. I always encourage them to seek out other sources, like blogs from soldiers on the scene or blogs written by Iraqis. You get a completely different perspective on just how much better things really are, and how each day brings us closer to achieving our goals.

Anyway, it was a very uplifting afternoon and it was great to join the troops is some rousing “hooAhs”.


Well, the title to this post will surely bring some disappointed visitors doing a Google search. Trust me, the title is not a desparate attempt to generate hits on my near-dead blog. I have a funny story to tell about that word.

But first, about last night. It was pool league again. Three more losses. I really suck. That has nothing to do with sodomy BTW. I just can’t put a decent pool game together. The team captain gave me a pep talk, encouraged me not to give up, to relax and have a good time and all that. Well, I do enjoy playing pool. I just don’t like it in a competitive kind of way. If I didn’t suck, I would. But feeling like I am letting the team down while embarassing myself gets old real quick. I would have resigned but most weeks we have the minimum number of players and that makes quitting not really an option. So my self imposed nickname is “better than a forfeit”. Well, the team won the match despite my failings last night, so I guess that’s the important thing.

Part of the problem is that I don’t even practice any more. That’s because I have basically quit the bar scene. In my former life I rarely went out drinking, and I just don’t need to acquire any more bad habits at this late stage of my life. So these days I mostly stay at the house and play CIV III, watch TV, and fall asleep on the couch. Now you know why I haven’t been posting, when you ain’t doing anything of interest, there isn’t much of interest to write about. I’ve been trying to reacquire some passion for politics, but so far its just not happening.

I do have this story to tell from last night. We have a Korean woman on our team. She teaches English to middle school age kids. And she is working hard at improving her own English language skills. She actaully does quite well, but like most of the Koreans I’ve met, they disparage their own English speaking abilities. If I could only speak Korean half as well as the Koreans with “poor English” I would have a much easier life here. “June” (I don’t know her Korean name, if I asked I’ve forgotten it) is always working on her vocabulary and brings a notebook with words she is learning to the pool league every week. Between games she will ask us the pronunciation and meaning of the words on her list, which she then dutifully writes down in Hangul. Last nights words included “guise”, “excavation”, “fraternity”, “carte blanche” and several others I can’t recall at the moment. Me and a couple of the guys sitting at the table would use the word in a sentence, try and provide alterantive definitions, and explain when and how the word might be used. After awhile I got up to throw some darts, and June came up and said I have another word on my list and the guys at the table “couldn’t help her with it”. I said, ok, what’s the word? “Sodomy” (imagine it being said with a Korean accent). I just looked at her. The guy I was playing darts with cracked up and said “go ahead, John. Tell her”.

Her innocence was charming as she waited expectantly for my answer. And my reaction was funny. I am by no means a prude and I don’t think I have any sexual hang-ups, but geez, telling this sweet young woman about sodomy was not as easy as you might imagine. So I fumbled and stumbled, and she wasn’t quite getting it. So, I just described the act. She laughed and said, “oh, something homosexuals do”. I smiled and said yes, but not just homosexuals. And no, I did not give her the slang term for the act. She can find a boyfriend to do that. Anyway, when I mentioned the Biblical origins of the word, she was familiar with the story and we thankfully moved on to other words.

That was the highlight of my evening. Which says a lot more about my life than I might otherwise admit.

Goodbye Columbus

So the long holiday weekend is behind me. As one might expect, Chris Columbus is no hero here in Asia, but I was glad for the day off. Here’s the recap on how I spent my time:

I achieved my second highest score ever playing as the Spanish in CIV III. Purely coincidence that I played as Isabella (I do each civilization in rotation) on Columbus Day, but it worked out well.

I took a two hour walk along the Han riverside Sunday afternoon. I needed the exercise and it was a beautiful day. Took a different route and saw a new part of town which was nice too.

I was driving through Itaewon Saturday and some cab driver went nuts on me. Driving behind me honking his horn like a madman and then pulling along side and flipping me off. I just laughed. I have no idea what I did to piss him off, but whatever it was I’m sure it does not compare to the crap I have endured from cabbies on a routine basis. Guess he didn’t like a taste of his own medicine. Anyway, it was pretty funny to watch this guy and I took a measure of perverse pleasure in his reaction to my unknown offense.

I went to Dolce Vita last night. First time I’ve been in a bar since I got back from the States. I had only intended to have one or two beers and maybe get a little pool practice in. My friend Scott was there and he’s the kind of guy who never lets your glass get empty before he buys another round. So I wound up drinking four or five and caught a pretty good buzz. I played two games of pool with Tim, a guy on my pool league team who actually has a lower rating than me. He wanted to play for shots. I guess he shoots better with some motivation because he beat me both times rather convincingly. Of course, I hadn’t touched my cue for three weeks, but then again, when you shoot pool like I do a layoff doesn’t hurt much. It’s like golf, the more I practice the worse I get.

Came home and put Crash in the DVD player. I actually bought the DVD several weeks ago but hadn’t gotten around to watching it. After reading Nomad’s review I was anxious to see it. The part I saw was excellent. I passed out about halfway through. Woke up on the couch fully dressed at 3 a.m. I’m such a lightweight these days.

Oh yeah, my blog apparently got hacked sometime over the weekend. I tried to log on yesterday and got a black screen that said “trustix has you”. Did anyone notice? Anyway, I contacted my web host ( and they fixed me up right away (thanks Lisa). Seems I made a mistake when I ignored their advice to upgrade to the newer version of WordPress. Admittedly I am a techno-peasant so this stuff about security holes being exploited doesn’t mean much. Suffice to say I bought the upgrade. I don’t understand the hacker mentality. Why would anyone want to waste time crashing my worthless blog?

So there you have it. If my life sounds rather pathetic these days it is only because it is. Not to worry though, I have a positive attitude and I fully anticipate getting my s*it together one day soon.


“Home” again

Just returned from my whirlwind journey to Phoenix. The “train the trainer” training was good and I will busy getting ready to share my new found knowledge of the National Security Personnel System with my USFK compatriots. I got a little irked with the political commentary of one of the instructors…not really commentary but pot shots at the President, Rumsfeld and DoD. You know, I’m always up for a politcal debate, but the classroom in a DoD sponsored training course is not the time or place. I gave him a little constructive feedback in my course evaluation and let it go at that.

I had a couple of days before my flight back to Seoul, so I drove across the Mojave desert. I can get my taste of mountains here, but you just don’t have access to the great wide open spaces in Korea. It was good to have the feeling you get by being alone in the emptiness again. Oh yeah, my road led me to Laughlin, Nevada. A great place to gamble on the Colorado river. Turns out I dropped a little cash, but had a great time doing it. There was a fun married couple at my blackjack table and we spent the hours drinking, laughing, and razzing each other. So, if I figure the “free” beers were actually $20 each, I did ok.

I left Laughlin and took the long way back to Phoenix via Yuma. I got the hankering for some Mexican food and seeing as how Mexico was right there I ventured across the border. Been a long time since I had visited one of these border towns. Reminded me of Itaewon a little but the vendors were actually more agressive. My Spanish is better than my Korean, but everyone spoke good English of course. I was amazed to see the number of pharmacies, dental and doctors offices. Apparently lots of folks come down for cheap drugs and medical care. I think I would be a little nervous about doing that, but it appeared they were doing a land office business.

Anyway, the flight home was uneventful (although delayed) except the plane was full again which makes the long trip that much more uncomfortable. My connection was through Los Angeles, and it was surprising to see so many Koreans in the “non-Korean” line at immigration. And it was a LONG line to boot.

I was never able to adjust my sleep pattern on this trip, so I was always tired. I’ve done nothing but sleep since I got home. Nope, back for two days and I have not had one beer or visited any of my bar haunts in Itaewon. Even blew off playing pool last night. Just slept on the couch with the TV blaring.

So as you can see my life is as exciting as ever. I think I might be in some kind of transition. I know what I don’t what to do now, but I am not sure what I will be doing to fill these hours.

Stay tuned.