Duty calls in Korea for another generation

Monday, June 26th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

Osan Air Base is an obscure U.S. military outpost in South Korea, one few soldiers know much about until they arrive.

Then they take a mandatory 86-mile bus ride to the double-fenced Demilitarized Zone separating North and South Korea, and begin to understand.

Understand why 33,700 U.S. service people are scattered around more than 100 installations in South Korea. Across the mine-laced DMZ no-man's land, enemy troops look back.

"You can see right on the other side these North Koreans looking at you through binoculars, checking out your uniform, your rank," said Air Force Staff Sgt. Tim Auen, a San Jose native stationed at Osan for a one-year tour.

Like many in the military arriving for duty in Korea, the F-16 maintenance support expert stepped off the plane clueless about the 50-year political and military stalemate.

"I don't know much about the country except for what I saw on `M*A*S*H*' reruns," said Army Sgt. Susan Blount, a 28-year-old Detroit native scheduled to report for duty in South Korea on Oct. 20. "And I wasn't much of a fan of that show."

The court reporter now stationed at the Army's National Training Center at Fort Irwin near Barstow doesn't know her Korean duty station, and she's not going to worry about it until she gets there.

For Air Force Staff Sgt. Dewey Robert Hansford, who grew up in Los Angeles, the assignment that took him to Osan five months ago turned out to have special meaning.

His father, Robert, a retired Los Angeles fire captain, fought as an infantryman around Osan and nearby Inchon 50 years ago.

Hansford, an anti-terrorist specialist with Air Force security forces, quickly learned his job at Osan was going to be unlike any other assignment in his 14-year career.

"Every day I have to be aware of my surroundings," he said.

Hansford is responsible for ensuring that terrorists or North Korean infiltrators do not penetrate the base's boundaries. He always patrols with live ammunition in his weapons, looking for signs of intruders.

For security reasons, Hansford said he could not discuss what he has found on his patrols.

But he said Defense Secretary William Cohen's description of the Korean peninsula as "perhaps the hottest flash point in the world" is in the minds of every soldier there.

Army Capt. Dan Gannod, now stationed at Fort Irwin, remembers his first tour of the Indiana-sized countryin 1989, when he visited battle sites and the DMZ.

"I was just a young platoon leader then, and I just thought, `I don't know how ready I am,' " Gannod recalled.

Marlowe Churchill can be reached by e-mail at mchurchill@pe.com or by phone at (909) 656-3339.