MARINE CORPS AIR STATION IWAKUNI, Japan -- July 27, 1953, marked the signing of the Armistice Agreement creating a cease-fire over the 38th parallel, which now separates North and South Korea. More than half a century later, Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni Marines traveled on a professional military-education trip to the Korean Demilitarized Zone in pursuit of a better understanding of Marine Corps heritage.
“We have the 60th anniversary of the armistice being signed this year,” said Lt. Col. F. Lance Lewis, Headquarters and Headquarters Squadron commanding officer. “The Marine Corps has a lot of history in Korea, both pre and post-Korean War, so it was important we had those two tied together. I got a lot out of the trip; I learned a ton about the history of the Korean conflict, why borders are where they arenow, why the tensions are so high, why it’s a forefront in the news. It was interesting, we got back yesterday, I read the news before I went to bed and there was the North Korean dictator saying they are getting ready to do their third nuclear test. Tensions are still very, very high there and I hope the Marines got an appreciation for that, because I know I certainly did.”
Arriving in Osan Air Force Base late in the evening of Jan. 25, 2013, the weather proved to be as historically comparable to the bone chilling temperature Marines endured during the war, providing a truly real experience.
“We wanted to do the trip in winter, to give us a little taste of how cold it could be and the weather could not have been more perfect,” said Lewis. “It was freezing, bitterly, bitterly cold. We got on the bus in the morning and I think it was minus eleven. Even though it was a beautiful day, visually, the wind was whipping down from the north. I was in my biggest parka money could buy, scarf, hat, gloves, quadruple layering on and I was still freezing.”
The group, comprised of mainly lance corporals and corporals, highlighted the trip’s emphasis on teaching and mentoring junior Marines and noncommissioned officers, preparing them for a successful future in the Marine Corps.
“I put a lot of stock into our NCOs,” said Lewis. "I demand a lot out of them because they are our leaders and it's important to me that we get our junior leaders out there. I would rather take the group we took every single weekend than take a single staff NCO or officer, not because they don’t deserve to go, but I would rather invest that time and effort into somebody who we can grow into a leader. Lance corporals and corporals are leading from a junior level, but one day, one of those Marines is going to be a first sergeant, or a sergeant major, or a master gunnery sergeant. I just want them to get a feel for the bigger picture.”
Lance Cpl. Brandon Brooks, H&HS air traffic controller, said he felt grateful to be able to participate in the Ironman competition that preceded the trip, earning such a unique opportunity.
“It was great getting to be in the competition and get a feel for what the Marines who were in the Korean War went through,” said Brooks. “Actually going there and feeling how cold it was, it really made you think about the hardships they endured. It was really cool learning a lot about the DMZ and all the history around there, it’s something I would definitely want to do again, if given the chance.”
Lewis said that upcoming competitions within H&HS willalso incorporate a similar reward as an incentive.