Monday, December 8, 2014

Apologies to Jimmy Buffett

So, There I was……..* Flying Eagles at Kadena and now the Assistant Ops Officer, in the Top Three, woo hoo!  More SOF time, and meetings!  AND, if the Boss and the Ops Officer are away, I get to answer the hot line from the Wing Commander.  Yes Sir, life is sweet!

The squadron has deployed from Kadena to Kwang Ju AB (Google now refers to it as Gwang Ju. Hey, growing up, I learned Peking was the capitol of China, Bombay was in India and that large Island off the coast was Ceylon, what do I know?).  Kwang Ju is the base we’re expected to operate from if the Kim family decides to vacation in the South.  I believe it is the second or third largest city in the country and well over a million people. We’ve got lots of practice operating from there.

This particular deployment is to participate in Team Spirit, a very large exercise that is simultaneously a Command Post exercise as well as a Field Exercise.  All branches participate, from both the ROK and US militaries.  Similar to Reforger for Europe, many stateside units will deploy from the US to the ROK, keeping their deployment procedures sharp. Just coincidentally, the exercise ensures there are actual units deployed when Korean weather starts to improve.  You know, in case the Kim family wants to spend spring break in Pusan (I know… Busan).

In any case, we’ve been deployed here for a couple of weeks, done quite a bit of flying against everything from F-86s (very hard to see, turn on a dime, and flown by madmen), F-16s (somewhat hard to see, turn on a dime, and flown by madmen, only if they’re from the 80TFS), to the SR-71(easy to see (they glow white), can’t complete a 180 degree turn and remain within the borders of Texas, and flown by madmen in orange space suits). 

One of the most amazing things I witnessed was how far the ROK, as a country, had progressed from my tour with the Juvats in the late 70s to where they were in the mid to late 80s.  Sponsoring an Olympics, may or may not be good for a country, but, IMHO it was fabulous for the Koreans.  However, there were a few drawbacks.  For instance, driving over to Kunsan and hawking the field waiting for someone to take off and bounce them for a little impromptu DACT engagement had somehow become verboten.  Who knew?

In all seriousness, Korea really grew into a First World country in that decade, not without some strife, to be sure.

But, as Sarge continuously reminds me, I digress.

It’s towards the end of the deployment and the Boss has stopped by the duty desk where I am busily manning the phone.  Hey, the Kim Family could call for reservations at any time, couldn’t they?  Anyhow, he says he’s got a good deal for me and would I remove myself and Bones from tomorrow’s flying schedule, please?  Now, right off the bat, good deal and not flying are never used in the same sentence in a fighter squadron.  I’m looking at him rather skeptically as he continues.  “We have been tasked to provide two pilots to attend a dinner tonight at a function in downtown Kwang Ju.  I’m the Boss, and my presence on the flight schedule tomorrow is critical to the defense of the nation.  The Ops Officer says tonight is haircut night and clearly that takes priority, which leaves you.”


I go find Bones and tell him that boring 2 v X DACT we’ve got scheduled for tomorrow just went away and we’d have some downtime tomorrow.  Since we no longer have to plan that mission, how about he and I go to the Class VI store and pick up a couple of bottles of Johnnie Walker Black. It’s never a good thing to arrive at a dinner, especially with local dignitaries, unarmed.

At this point, I haven’t been told a thing about what this dinner is about, who the host is, or any agenda for the evening. I’ve just been told to be at the front gate at 1700. 

Additionally, as many times as I’ve deployed to Kwang Ju, I’ve never seen the city (except a taxi ride from the Train Station to the base, a future story).  So, I have no idea where we’re going.

We walk out the front gate and promptly at 1700 a large black limousine pulls up and the driver gets out and opens the back door for us.  We drive for a while and pull up at what is obviously a school. Given the age of the folks walking around, I surmise this is a College. Either the driver doesn’t speak English or he’s just not talkative, so I’m still in the dark. He pulls up to the front and we’re met by several Korean men.  Introductions are begun and hands are shaken (left hand on the right wrist, with a slight bow, please). 

I’ve gathered that our host has something to do with this College, but I still don’t have any details.  We’re led in to a large hall in the middle of which is a grand piano.  There are several rows of chairs towards the rear of the room and two large lounge chairs right in front of the piano.  We mill around for a bit with more introductions which rapidly fill up what limited RAM I have available, then our host says we should take our seats.  Bones and I start to head for a row of chairs towards the back of the room, when, biblically, our host takes us up to the lounge chairs up front.  He then goes back to the chairs at the rear and sits down.

A young lady comes in and sits down at the piano and begins to play a classical piano concerto that is truly fabulous. She’s replaced by another young person who plays another piece of absolutely outstanding music.  This goes on for about an hour.  I’m overwhelmed.  Come to find out, the school was Korea’s equivalent to Julliard.
We leave the school and get back in the Limo with our host and finally get some information.  Turns out he’s basically the Superintendent for Schools in Kwang Ju.  So he’s somebody big.  

Our next stop is dinner at his house with several dignitaries.  As we arrive at his house, we take off our shoes and there is an exchange of gifts.  We are given a couple of ornately wrapped Korean Dolls in glass boxes for which we thank him profusely.  We present him with our brown paper bag wrapped Liter bottles of Johnny Walker Black and you’d have thought we had given him the keys to Fort Knox.  They cost us about 10 Bucks each at the Class VI store.  They were well over a hundred on the Korean economy.  We were instant best friends.

We sit down, on the floor, at a long table.  Bones and I are seated directly across from our host.  The table is only a couple of feet wide, but has to be 30 or 40 feet long.  And it is entirely covered with food. 

Some I recognized.

Kimchi front row center left
Source Wikipedia
 Others I recognized some of the ingredients.
Crab and Shrimp
Source Wikipedia
 Still others I had no idea what they were.
YGIAGAM! But Tasty!
Source Wikipedia

We begin with some toasts.  The host poured some soju for Bones and I.  "One Shot".  No sipping allowed.  They didn’t serve THIS brand of soju in A Town.  Smooth!  I poured a shot for our host.  Down the hatch.  

Our host grabs a piece of fish with his chopsticks and places it on my dish.  He asks if I’d like a knife and fork.  I grabbed a piece of fish with my chopsticks and placed it on his dish and said, thank you very much, but that won’t be necessary.  Dinner seemed to be heavy hors d’ouevres with shots of soju to wash it down.  It now dawns on me that Bones and I are, in fact, participating in a 2 v X engagement as our Host and his henchmen wingmen are determined to best us in gustatory combat.

Well, then, Fight’s on…

As best I can recall the ROE (many brain cells were killed that night) when someone poured you a shot, you and he consumed one.  Then, the ball was in your court so to speak, you got to pick someone and pour two shots which you both drank.  It also seemed that if you didn’t use your honor to pour a shot within a short period of time, someone else could seize the initiative and pour one for you.  

I quickly figured out why the Boss had taken Bones and I off the schedule, this was not going to be a “12 hours between bottle and throttle” drunk. No, this was going to be an epic "Jimmy Buffett" drunk and state sponsored at that!  

I realized that Bones and I are going down in flames, but decided I’m taking a few with me and revised my strategy.  I pick the littlest guy there and decide he’s my target.  Every time I get toasted, he’s my retoast.  After a couple of rounds, he stops toasting me, but his friends don’t. They toast me and I retoast my target.  Pretty soon, Bones figures out my strategy and starts rolling in on my target also.  After a few more rounds, I notice he’s sound asleep with his head on his chest.  Victory!

At some point, we are limo’d back to the base.  We are stopped at the front gate by the SPs who are upset and call the Boss.  He shows up a few minutes later with a bread van, bottled water and Advil.  The next day, someone fires off the scramble horn and if I ever find that SOB………

*Evidently, other services have difficulty in agreeing how their version of a War Story begins.  Suffice it to say in the USAF, they begin “So, there I was….” And the only difference between what is said thereafter and a fairy tale is the fairy tale begins “Once upon a time…”


  1. Fighters, food and booze. Now that's a tale worth the telling.

    I've done the toasting thing in Korea with some counterparts in the ROK army. No, I don't remember much about it. But I think you've captured the protocol nicely.

    The Romanization of Korean has always been an interesting topic. Hence Gwangju versus Kwangju also Gunsan versus Kunsan. The initial letter of both those words falls somewhere between a hard English "K" and a hard English "G" when saying them in Korean. Most Korean scholars prefer the initial "G", which really is closer to the actual pronunciation.

    미군 보냅니다 ...

    1. The initial title for the post was an attempt at alliteration "Gaijins in Gwangju" until I realized/remembered that the Japanese and Koreans are not the best of friends. I tried to find the Korean word for foreigner and could only get a return in Hangul. I was unsure what effect that would have in Blogger and the feeds on other folks blogs. So rather than take the chance.....

  2. Epic.

    DACcT: Dissimilar Alcohol Cross-cultural Trials. It's where the heavy lifting of international diplomacy occurs.

    1. In vino veritas.
      Would be interesting to see any of our current crop of diplomats in a similar situation with their Russian counterparts though.

  3. Heh. We have a couple of like tee shirts, Juvat.

    It seems the Korean and Nipponese drinking protocols have a LOT in common, even if both sides would prolly disagree on this nit or that nit, nationalism being what it is. Back in my mo'sickle racing days in Nippon the host club would take us gaijin two-wheeled warriors out on the town and try to get us absolutely, incredibly bombed the night BEFORE the race... and sometimes they succeeded. Which begs the question: have you ever run an MX course with God's Own Hangover? That ol' "don't try this at home" thingie applies. It's a wonder my friends and I survived the experience but I'd do it again in a heartbeat, if I could.

    1. Having spent time on Hokkaido, I would say we probably do have some of the same tee shirts, Buck.
      No, not an MX Course, but there was this Cross Country once.....

  4. Oh yeah... Be glad you ONLY lost a day... sigh...

    1. Well the day after that wasn't all that spiffy either.


Just be polite... that's all I ask. (For Buck)
Can't be nice, go somewhere else...

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