So, I've been in country now for three weeks, there's been some serious excitement, mixed with long days of in-processing and moving from one place to another. However, I have finally arrived at Camp Casey, I have moved into my Basic Officer's Quarters (BOQ), and now I'm shadowing a couple legal assistance attorneys before taking over, hopefully next week.
Some might wonder, why it takes nearly two weeks to in-process? I was certainly one of those people, but when you're here, and particularly when you're introduced to the unique and bizarre problems that soldiers and the Army faces in Korea, the frustration and confusion tends to dissipate. For those of us who are a little older, and have been through College and advanced schooling, the process will always be tedious and boring, but it is necessary. The Second Infantry Division, at least the Brigades stationed throughout Korea, are unique because a large portion of their soldiers are brand new to the Army, straight out of AIT, and for many of them, this is their first time away from home out the United States. Those factors alone create problems at any military installation, but here in Korea, also known throughout the Army as the Vegas of the Army (what happens in Korea, stays in Korea - by the way, NOT TRUE, just come to the legal assistance office to see the hard truth) the problems become more widespread. On top of the fact that most of these kids are in a foreign country (one where MOST of the nationals like us), there are whole "townships," called "Villes" set up around every post that their sole goal in life is to make money off of us. Whether it be bars, pawnshops, or other businesses of "ill-repute," each building seems to have another trap for the soldier to fall into.
The most prevalent problems in Korea are (1) alcohol and related offenses, and (2) extra marital issues. In Korea the drinking age is 19 years old, however the United States Forces Korea (USFK) Command as instituted a legal drinking age of 21 for all service members stationed here. So, clearly, we have a problem with underage drinking and similar to any other place in the world, where there is alcohol consumption, you will have alcohol related offenses, namely fights, sexual assaults, etc.
The other issues, the extra-marital issues, are far more interesting and unique to the Peninsula. If you've ever talked to a soldier about Korea, of have been near an installation on the Peninsula, then you've definitely heard about the "Juicy Girls," now called "Entertainers" which is more politically correct. These are women, mostly from the Philippines (they used to be predominantly Korean and Russian, but have since changed) who are hired by bars to attract Soldiers into the establishment. "Hired" is not necessarily accurate, in many cases these women come here and essentially become indentured servants, having to pay back all kinds of fees (for travel, and housing, etc...) with astronomical interests rates. In most cases, the Entertainers are looking and hoping to marry a Soldier, who will pay the bar owner the outstanding price owed, and then bring them back to the states. The Juicy Girls are very well trained, and once they attract Soldiers into the bars, the Soldiers are not allowed to talk to the girls (more accurately, the bar owner doesn't allow the girls to talk to the Soldiers) unless the Soldier buys the girl a "juice." A "juice" is in every sense exactly that, some kind of fruit juice, but the price for that juice is atrocious, many times in excess of $30. Essentially, the "juice" is the price for permission to talk to the girl. And Soldiers fall into it ALL THE TIME, it is a simple scheme that works.
So what is the big deal? Well, over time, these soldiers begin to "lay claim" to a single Juicy, and they begin to believe that they are in a relationship, and in many times that is exactly what is occurring (except the girl is still being a Juicy at the bar when the Soldier isn't around). Many of these soldiers are married, which is clearly an issue because "adultery" is a punishable offense under the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ). The other major issue is solely unique to USFK soldiers. A huge majority of soldiers who start dating a Juicy, fall in "Love" with that Juicy and propose to her. Many times the entire process of "meeting, courting, dating, and proposing" takes as little as three months (absolute craziness). The issue now becomes actually getting married. Because there is such a high rate of marriage in Korea, of Soldiers to non-US citizens, and many of those non-US citizens have issues that will bar them from immigrating to the US successfully and legally, the USFK Command as created an entire process for researching, reviewing, and authorizing the marriage. The process takes anywhere from 6-9 months and can be a total pain. The problems occur when the Soldier decides the process is "BS" or will take too long, and goes ahead and gets married without fulfilling the USFK Regulation, or the Soldier tries to side-step the Regulation by taking his Fiance back to her home country and marrying her there. Both courses of action will land the Soldier with disciplinary actions against them, and in many cases may bar the marriage from occurring.
See... Korea is a unique place. Because of these two issues, and a host of others (i.e. suicide is always an issue, etc...) in-processing in Korea takes a while. So, with some retrospect and reflection, I'm fine with the entire process. Once the process is finished, things move pretty quickly. I personally like my BOQ, it is a two room furnished "apartment" (still cinder block walls, but there's a nice strip of wood that I can hammer some nails into to hang art) with my own kitchen. I am right across the street from the PX, the gym, and the bowling alley, and only a five minute walk from my office. All of the attorneys I've met here and at Headquarters are awesome, I've been taken out several times to explore the Ville (to get to know where most of our clients come from, right...) as well as other neighborhoods within a short metro ride away that have awesome food.
There are a ton of Holidays coming up, as well as "training days" (i.e. long weekends, including Super Bowl weekend, which is a 4-day weekend in Korea) to look forward to, and plan some awesome travels for.
All told, I'm happy and nearly settled, the only thing left is to get my Household Good Shipment in. A word of advice to Soldiers/JAGs going anywhere internationally, stay on top of your Household Good shipments, and get that process started early. If you're coming to Korea, it takes almost two months for baggage to arrive, so you want to make sure to send everything with plenty of time to spare. If your bags arrive before you do, they are safely stored for you, so there is no issue with sending them early.
With that said, life is good. Happy Holidays...