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All Points West: Living outside my comfort zone
March 11, 2016 Frank Marquez   

Read more by Frank Marquez
One of the toughest things for anyone to do is break out of their comfort zone.

My mother-in-law, Nina, asked me several questions which got my mind stirring about how much the average American does not know about the Army National Guard, and how many times Iíve heard how thankful they are for people like me.

Most of my life, Iíve never known a comfort zone.

What will you be doing during training? Where will you be staying? Why does it have to be in South Korea?

The short answers arenít too exciting. Although the specifics are somewhat elusive because of what we need to keep under our lids; weíre nowhere near living the life of James Bond. Forget about creature comforts, tuxedos and Vodka Martinis. Iím simply doing my job. The Army calls it public affairs. I call it journalism, but more accurately and conveniently, it should have been called information management.

I stayed in so many places. I can fall asleep anywhere, even on rickety mattresses. Iíve lived in tents in the middle of a Panamanian jungle to a 5 Star hotel in the middle of Bandung, Indonesia, to living in B-huts for a year in Afghanistan. One thingís for sure, thereís always a bed. This is my third trip to the peninsula, which partly explains an American presence here. This part of Asia has historically been troubled, and is with little argument, the most war-torn country in the world, trod over by its neighbors several times. The country is technically still at war, an armistice keeping it civil since the end of the Korean War.

My journey began at 2:30 in the Friday morning, what we call ďOh Dark ThirtyĒ but long before I sat in a van heading to Denver in inky darkness, dozens of forms were signed, and large green bags were packed. My mind and body straining to remember small items like toothpaste, and the weight of the duffel handles stinging the palms of my hands. Two hours later, my fellow soldiers and I are standing in front of a ticket agent deciding whether or not to check fragile camera equipment. Two more hours pass, and weíre finally boarding a jet to Dallas. Two hours and 30 minutes later, we land in the home of the Cowboys, bleary eyed and desperately seeking a bathroom and the nearest Starbucks. I buy a bland sandwich and wash it down with a rich bold flavor of hot coffee. Another hour, and weíre packing into a huge international jet.
The pilot tells us weíll land in Incheon in roughly 14 hours. How to pass the time? The flight goes by quickly. Watching four of last yearís movies, and inhaling three tiny meals (youíd think we the giants in Gulliverís Travels) helps. My group arrives at Incheon and makes it through customs clutching important documents, our heads bobbing around at the sight of a massive airport. Itís four in the afternoon, the following day. We meet up with our active duty brethren who add our names to lists.

They yell our names when itís time to board busses. We wait another four hours, mostly standing around, talking about Army life, where weíve been, what weíve done. Finally, our names are called. We push our airport carts overflowing with bags out into the night mist. Like automatons, we find ourselves somehow sitting in seats. Four hours later, I arrive at an Army base in Daegu. Just past midnight on a Sunday, we listen to a welcome brief. Then, our hosts for two weeks confirm our identities. One more trip to a crowded and overflowing barracks. I unpack in darkness, conditioned by how I have done this hundreds of times, then step into an odd smelling shower for a brief two minutes. Finally, back to my wobbly bunk, and sleep. More than travel, Iíve met all kinds of people. This exercise gave Sgt. James Moore, regularly a trumpeter with the 8th Army Band, a job wanding soldiers at a security checkpoint. Iím accompanied by fellow Wyoming soldier Staff Sgt. Christopher Kirk, whose fulltime job back home is budget analyst. Our main host Master Sgt. Andrew Kosterman, once a drill sergeant at Fort Benning, Georgia, not only does his job as a public affairs specialist, but also coordinates barracks stays for visitors, yours truly included. Heís also a wealth of information about the Korean War. Just outside Camp Carroll, he said, is a monument to Korean and American soldiers atop Hill 303. Those soldiers, including several from the First Cavalry Division, perished establishing a perimeter there along a river to keep the North Koreans at bay.

Other times heís asked by his boss to drive her to Starbucks, which is just a block away. I joked that Iíve heard of worse cases of fraud, waste and abuse.

Then I think, some people must be OK with living in their comfort zone.
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