SEOUL, South Korea – It is cold, damp and overcast with two hours to go until push off. Soldiers take the time to eat lunch while they wait to have their feet checked by the medic. A K-tap and moleskin configuration is applied to every foot, preparing them for the final 40 miles of a 250 mile road march.
Twelve days earlier, 10 U.S. Service members from 19th Special Forces Group began the foot march alongside their partners from the 7th Republic of Korea, Special Forces Brigade. The trek has been conducted on and off over the past thirty years by Republic of Korea Special Forces units. Unlike any other training event it was developed to increase the capabilities and push the limits of the ROKSF.
This was the first time that U.S. Soldiers participated in trek alongside their ROKSF counterparts. For Lt. Col. Jay Kim, commander of 32nd ROKSF Battalion, it allowed a deep bond between the U.S. and ROK to be forged.
“During this combined training, we have been able to push our limits to achieve a strong bond which has made us family. That helps to strengthen the alliance,” said Kim. “The U.S. Soldiers have a positive attitude, no matter what.”
The trek took the 180 participants over mountainous terrain, from Mungyeong to Iksan, home of 7th Republic of Korea, Special Forces Brigade.
“It has been tough, but mainly because of the mountains.” Said Staff Sgt. Donald Bills, 19th Special Forces Group, from Dallas, Texas. “Here it is all mountains with only a streamer to mark the trail, some of it we have been bear crawling up steep inclines.”
Bills had six months of Korean language training which makes him the only member of the team able to communicate without the need of an interpreter.
“I don’t listen to music when I am walking,” said Bills. “It’s a great opportunity to talk to my Korean counterparts and learn about each other’s culture.”
The 12 day trek took place mostly at night with multiple check points along the route allowing medics to tend to feet and giving participants time for a brief rest. Initially, Staff Sgt. James McMillan, of Dallas, Texas would use this time to check the route ahead but after a week he stopped.
“At the beginning, I wanted to know many hills and how far we are going,” said McMillan. “Days seven and eight you stop caring about that. You just think to yourself ‘It’s just another mountain to climb over.’”
He says its mental toughness that gets you thru. And that is something both the U.S and ROK have in common.
“Mental toughness is the key component across the board,” said McMillian. “We may have different weapons and tactics, [but] our mental toughness and brotherhood are the same. Our ROK brothers have the same sense of pride that we do. They are not going to let anybody out do them.”
For the past six months the team of U.S. Soldiers has been training and working side by side with their ROK counterparts. The trek was planned solely for the ROK and was not mandatory for the American Soldiers. Staff. Sgt. Colton Hill was not going to let his Korean brethren face the challenge alone.
“It did not sound like fun, but it was the facing the challenge together that motivated us,“ said Hill. “It would have been in poor taste to sit back while our Korean brothers completed this task by themselves.”
Being the example and caring are the core fundamentals of a strong Alliance.
“It is easy to talk the talk. We wanted to walk the walk,” said Hill. “We needed to be with them to show there is solidarity and commitment between United States Special Forces and Republic of Korea Special Forces.”