Jim Hensley spent sixteen weeks at Fort Benning, Georgia for infantry basic training with an MOS of 11B. He trained and qualified with the M-47 Dragon, a medium range anti-tank weapon system. It is a wire-guided, shoulder-fired weapon that has a maximum range of one thousand meters. Taking out tanks was the main use of this weapon but it could also be used to destroy specific targets like bunkers and crew-fired weapon positions. It weighed less than seven pounds, making it the perfect anti-tank weapon for infantry units to carry when on foot. Once he had completed the required training and had qualified firing the Dragon, he was given the identifier of C2 making his MOS 11BC2. Jim graduated from AIT in January 1982 and was given orders to South Korea.
He had a pretty good idea where Korea was but he had no clue he would spend over twenty-four hours traveling to get there. The trip to Korea started in Atlanta and took him to Minneapolis-St. Paul, Oakland, and Anchorage before landing him at Kempo Airfield in South Korea. He was put on a bus to Camp Casey, which was located near Seoul, the capital of South Korea. He spent a week at Camp Casey in-processing and getting acclimated to the extremely cold weather. The soldiers he encountered on base kept referring to the new arrivals as “turtles.” After a few days, Jim finally worked up the courage to ask why they kept calling the newbies turtles. It turned out that the nickname wasn’t anything derogatory as he expected. It was more of an inside joke referring to the new arrivals having no clue it was going to take them a year to get from the in-processing building to the out-processing building one hundred feet away. The term was also used a little further back in history to refer to American soldiers because of the shape of the steel-pot helmets they wore which resembled a turtle’s shell.
A ton of information was covered during his week at Camp Covey. The instructors spent a lot of time teaching the history of Korea, particularly the current events and state of affairs there. They taught him about the Korean War and how it had never really ended but was under a cease fire arrangement since the signing of the armistice agreement in 1953. The whole country was in a state of martial law with the military in charge of law enforcement and the safety and protection of the citizens in the country. Nobody was allowed outside after dark or they were at risk of being shot. He was informed how the communist North Koreans ignored the armistice agreement, continually violating its terms, and the vigilance required to be ready for whatever the North would do next in their attempts to create chaos in the ROK. The time was also spent learning about their culture and the dangers to be found in the country during his off-duty time.
He was taught about the extreme weather he would encounter and how to dress properly for these conditions. He had seen firsthand the harshness of their winters as soon as he stepped off the plane. He learned the summers were very hot and humid with monsoons as well as typhoons with their hurricane-type winds and heavy rains. Both sides of the main roads around the country and around the perimeters of the military bases had ditches that were two to eight feet wide and at least four feet deep. Some of them were covered, but not many. They were called “turtle ditches” by the soldiers because the newbies had a tendency to ignore the warnings to be careful around these ditches, particularly if they had been drinking, and fell into them. The reason for these ditches was to provide a way for the heavy rains of the monsoon season to runoff and lessen the risks of flooding.
Jim finished his week of in-processing and was given his permanent duty assignment. Since he was a grunt who had done very well in basic, he was assigned to Alpha Company, 1st Battalion, 9th Infantry Regiment of 2ID at Camp Liberty Bell. The base was two miles from the DMZ and had the distinction of being the farthest north of all the permanent infantry bases. The ride on the bus was a long and quiet one with each soldier deep in thought about his destination. Each of them had heard stories about the DMZ and looking at the foreign landscape out the windows of the bus had each of them deep into his own thoughts, fighting the fear that was building up inside each of them as the bus took them closer and closer to the communist border.
Find out the rest of Jim’s story in the third installation of We Were Soldiers Too, available now on Amazon.