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American Forces Press Service

Joint Chiefs Chairman Visits Korea's Demilitarized Zone

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

CAMP BONIFAS, South Korea, Nov. 11, 2012 – Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey visited the Demilitarized Zone separating North and South Korea today and got a taste of what life is like on the world’s hottest frontier.

Army Gen. James D. Thurman, commander of Combined Forces Command Korea and U.S. Forces Korea, escorted the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff on the visit.

The chairman and his party were going to fly to this camp, but weather forced a ground movement. On the drive from the skyscrapers of the South Korean capital of Seoul to the DMZ, Dempsey could see the military and economic changes to the landscape, as the number of blockhouses and berms laced with concertina wire multiplied.

All this is in response to the danger North Korea poses to the south. The armistice signed in 1953 did not end the Korean War -- it merely suspended it. A state of war still officially exists.

At this camp, he met the U.S. and South Korean service members who man the joint security area that includes the armistice buildings at Panmunjom. The chairman visited the Freedom House that the South Koreans built on their side of the border, and he visited the conference room at Panmunjom. North Korean soldiers hurried down to the buildings with cameras when Dempsey and Thurman arrived.

The chairman entered the truce building and received a briefing from the U.S. negotiator. He learned, for example, that it took 11 and a half hours to negotiate the size of the United Nations and North Korean flags on the table in the room. North Korean soldiers stared in the window as Dempsey walked to the northern side of the building.

The North Korean actions would have been simply ludicrous if not for the examples around the area that this was a deadly game. At Observation Post Oulette, which overlooks the DMZ, a small plaque next to the overlook memorializes seven Marines of Easy Company, 2nd Battalion, 5th Marines, who died defending the area in 1952. At another spot, the chairman viewed the area where North Korean soldiers hacked to death Army Capt. Arthur Bonifas and Army 1st Lt. Mark Barrett as they led a detail in 1976 to trim a tree in the DMZ.

As he and Thurman visited the DMZ, Dempsey noted that they both started their military careers in Germany, guarding the border between the Warsaw Pact and NATO. That heavily guarded border now is a thing of the past.

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