I’m currently at home on a vacation far from my usual residence. I’ve had this planned since early January, as vacations are usually planned a month in advance. I originally put in my request for eight days, so I was supposed to return to my base this Wednesday. However, I got a call from my First Sergeant yesterday (Sunday), and he extended my vacation by a week. In the past few days, the confirmed cases of COVID-19 have skyrocketed in Korea due to members of a Christian cult, and it is not considered safe to be outside. The commanders have decided that I (along with my peers who are currently on vacation) would be a safety risk to the base. Once I return to my base next week, I’ll be quarantined for another two weeks just to make sure I’m not a health risk to everyone else. It looks like I won’t be a functioning soldier for almost a month, which feels odd. Honestly, it would’ve been more convenient and less stressful if I had not left the base.
The Ministry of Defence has restricted and blocked every vacation and outgoings of all personnel effective last Saturday. Several of my peers were supposed to go on to their vacations last Friday, but they were all stopped right before their departures. I got lucky in the sense that I was able to leave a couple of days earlier, but, this isn’t all good. The First Sergeant is making me use my other vacations (that I have and would use later) to extend my current one. This (the one being appended) is the vacation I was supposed to go on in April or May. There is a finite number of vacation days I can use throughout my service, and this long (15 days…) vacation severely limits my “budgeting” ability as I still have plenty of days left in the army. It’s nice to be out and be at home. I had good times with my friends, and it’s always nice to have a change of pace from the usual environment. However, it’s quite frustrating that even going out to get coffee is considered dangerous. The saddest part of all is that I can see the local economy dying. Lots of restaurants and bars have shut down since not many people are coming out. Many stores have been forced to shut down since confirmed patients have visited them. It’s a rough time for everyone. I hope the situation improves shortly.
On a different note, in the past several weeks or so, our battalion was busy with a series of winter training exercises. A couple of episodes where I was closed to getting hurt:
During a DEFCON 1 readiness exercise, one thing we need to do as a battalion to prepare for the war is to bring down all the fire powers we possess from the armory. So we take a giant truck inside the armory and load boxes of bullets, different types of grenades, and other weaponries. When we were unloading them (after we loaded everything) at the barrack, I kicked a giant box (not an ordinary bullet box) to push it out to the back of the truck, a Master Sergeant yelled not to kick it. Later I saw the label it said Antitank Rockets x15 with a radiation warning sign. So that happened… I didn’t know we had such thing… and it wouldn’t have been pretty to see if one of them had exploded.
Not too many days after that happened, a small group of us were on top of a mountain, carrying out a training exercise in a military restricted area. The location is one of those scenes where you have to be there to understand it, but the peak of the mountain is the tallest one within the region, and we visited this other base located near the peak. The place is somewhat isolated, either you need to take a chopper or a (military) cable car. This wasn’t my first time at the mountain, so I explained to the newbies before coming, and they agreed, the words couldn’t explain the scene. The weather condition was abysmal the whole time, and we were in the cloud for three days, and as such, everything was slippery and wet. On the second day of it, in the middle of the operation, I carried a large piece of equipment and hiked up a sharp, narrow ridge to relocate it, and I suddenly lost my balance. In the split second where I tried to regain my balance, I thought and knew that I was gonna get hurt (at minimum) and might not recover. I didn’t let go of the equipment at that very moment for some reason, which would have saved me. Thankfully (this word doesn’t do it justice), a master sergeant just pulled my jacket hard from behind, saving both myself and the equipment. I got over it quickly, and I didn’t say it, but I knew that he saved my life and that I could have been seriously injured.
In the middle of January, as part of the training, we were out in a field on a freezing winter night, basically setting up parameters in groups (to catch an “infiltrator”). We had to be up all night on our post and on the alert. Imagine something like this at night (the soulless look on his eyes accurately portrays the situation). We managed to stay up, but it was painful. The only fun part was snacking with my group and looking at the stars with the night vision goggles. In the morning after they called us in, we rode on the back of a giant truck with no cover over it. We were cold and exhausted. Somehow I managed to sleep with the freezing wind and the rising sun coming at me. My body felt like it aged about three years afterward and it was disgusting. It really wasn’t pleasant.
These are the most memorable things I’ve gone through in the past month. I find it uncanny that the memories that get engraved into me are the most unpleasant and distressing ones. I guess one way to cope with that is to be cliché and say something like that which does not kill us makes us stronger.
On a lighter note, I made 31 bunk beds. It sounds random, but we were supplied with bunk-bed-converter-kits, so I led the effort of turning single, normal beds into bunk beds. It was a good project to be productive, and more importantly, to pass time. Also working on projects like this happens in a group, and as such, it’s a good way to get to know the underlings more personally.
Anyway, I still have more than a week to spend at home. I plan on catching up on readings and writing, publish more posts here, and watch some movies. It’s nice but I’m worried that I am getting too used to this “civilian pace” — waking up whenever, doing whatever, and sleeping whenever. It’s gonna be rough adjusting back to the base life once I return. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
Update on 02.29.2020: My vacation got extended once again, making it 18-days long. Still have four days left as I’m posting this.