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March 25, 2006

What I'm up to (as much as you get to know, anyway)

This thing is kicking my butt. Aside from the wear and tear of service that has ground down my endurance, the long hours, out-of-kilter time synch, and mebbe all the walking we're doing and breathing in all the yellow dust and pollution of Seoul are taking their toll - but I'm damn tired. And you no-tolerance-for-slackers readers ambushed me this morning over that blasted caption (/whine).

I'm data collecting for a study. Which means we are here talking to a lot of people. All of whom are spread apart from each other, all over Yongsan garrison and all over the large underground bunker that houses the command post we're in now that the exercise has started. And my younger-than-I-and-still-healthy partner has waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaay too much energy. And his ability to pump people for info is astounding to watch.

The CP bunker is fascinating. Like Cheyenne Mountain, which contains NORAD headquarters in the US, this is dug into the base of a mountain. You approach up a long, winding road (where the fiber cable that carries most of the comms is conveniently marked with little signs every 50 or so feet, "Buried Fiber Optic Cable, Do Not Cut" which I'm sure will completely throw off the NORK SF guys...).

There are two checkpoints and several manned bunkers along the road. No, this is not an OPSEC violation, btw. All this is visible from the 8 lane highway, or any of the innumerable garden plots and houses that line the route. This place is as secret as NORAD is from that perspective. It's protection lies in it's construction and the likely threats against it. CPs Tango and Oscar are not secrets. Nor are the general outlines of how they are laid out. If you know where to look, the maps are there for the printing. This is brute force security - tons and tons of Precambrian (old) banded granite gneiss that make up the mountains in the region.

You walk up to the portal, get your ID checked and scanned in and walk up the tunnel to the door (passing some more bunkers inside). Classic mountain tunnel carved "from the living stone" to channel Tolkien and others. Greyish-black, coarse-grained feldspar interspersed with white bands of quartz or alspite - it's hard stuff that wears well and takes stress well. In other words, a good place to build a bunker.

You approach the blast doors, which are more akin to European between-the-wars bunkers than the huge bank-vault type doors of Cheyenne Mountain, and enter the bunker complex.

For people familiar with NORAD, the first thing you notice is that - it doesn't look like NORAD. The interior buildings are not on huge shock-absorbing springs inside a cavern. They carved into the cavern and are integral to it. What it most resembles is a ship. And initially, it is as disorienting as a ship can be to newbies - because until you know the layout, everything looks the same. Gleaming white corridors with a 5 inch black base. Glossy Navy Gray floors. Conduit and piping everywhere, some colored, most white. Cable runs, air plenums, airlock doors. The doors are all light brown, as are their frames - and they all look alike. Side passages seemingly open off randomly (though there is very much an order here) and all the signs for the various staff sections look the same. It even has bilge pumps (and gutters) for the water that naturally flows through a place like this.

It's full of people - some like me, wandering around trying to get organized and oriented, most moving purposefully off on their unknown tasks. Little tiny Koreans, big hulking Americans, and all the flavors in-between. It's a joint and combined staff, so you see sailors, airmen, soldiers, Marines, and their Korean equivalents. The uniform variation is jarring, too, and you have the DoD civilians and many contractors also in uniform. Then there's the Guys With Ties, like me. I'd rather be in BDUs. I hate ties.

The main operations center is right out of the movies, full of people, computers and blinkenlights, and a video wall dominating one side of the room.

This is a nerve center of a military machine that has had 50 years to prepare for a battle in it's front yard. The difference between this CP and a forward-deployed CP over in-theater in the Middle East is marked. Much more comfortable here. Nice and cool, controlled climate, regular facilities vice porta-potties, and you're sleeping in the Marriott rather than a barracks conex.

But, just like back at Yongsan, everyone I need to talk to is scattered in different corners of the complex, running on different schedules with real missions - so we have to work around that. There's no laying out a rational rotation. We go from one corner of the CP to another, then back to where we were to catch someone else whom we couldn't catch while we were there earlier.

Then there's the interviews/discussions, where you have to be able to listen and record, but think ahead as well. It's work, and it's exhausting. Then, at the end of the shift - get back to the hotel and start writing stuff down in a coherent form while it's still fresh, so I don't have to try to decipher what the heck I meant when I wrote that cryptic note in a hurry.

There's enough of that already!

Lot's of learning going on, none of which you guys are gonna hear about, sorry.

Time to head off for brekkies then a taxi to Yongsan to catch the bus to the CP.

Sorry, no pics. Can't take any. And besides, I'd just give the captionistas anudder target.