I can’t help it. I just can’t wipe this smile off my face. My hands are trembling, and my eyes are on the verge of being filled with tears of joy. I firmly shake hands and take photos with fellow soldiers, even those whose names I do not remember. I will keep in contact with those I have found entertaining enough. Thank you, Sergeant Major Heo. You were the only person successful in containing my lunatic side. Laughter and high-fives ring in my eardrums. I’m not a big fan of loud obnoxiousness, but I will make an exception today. If I get hit by a car and break my bones, so be it. I won’t be too depressed. I may shiver in pain, but I will be screaming in joy for the most part. You know why? I just declared expiration of my military service today.
Maybe you have been getting annoyed by my crybaby-complaints, but it is all coming to an end today. No matter when, where and how one serves, there is always an end, and that ending has come. Here at Camp Henry, South Korea, only a half-an-hour drive from Camp Carroll, every KATUSA declares termination of his contract in front of Lieutenant Colonel Koo, who is supposed to be the ultimate boss of this area. He was never my favorite, and he never will be. I salute him and shake hands with him, officially hitting a period after a long paragraph of 21 month-long sentences.
He probably should let go of my hands. I don’t know why he’s holding them for so long, with that disgusting fake smile. Done. Final confrontation with LTC Koo. Do I like him? No. Do I respect him? Still no, but that’s not the right question at this point. Of course, he only gave me and my fellow KATUSAs hard times from his enthusiastic and passionate over-interpretation of military regulations; however, he holds the key to a lifelong freedom, and I shall do anything to snatch that key into my hand.
I will be absolutely honest about this final episode of my military series. After all, this is the last one, and you won’t hear me speaking in this military tone again. While writing the past episodes, I tended to hide some of the details and exaggerate a little on my personal feelings. None of that is present here.
I will never be able to forget this 21-month service during my lifetime. All that sweat from scorching sun and excessive physical exercise, tears from sorrowful events and overwhelming joy, blood from scars I have obtained for many different reasons compile into a dense, solidified section of my brain. I will never again be able to ignore the South Korean flag, for this servitude gave me a wholehearted lesson on nationalism’s importance and privilege that needs to be protected by everyone. I have learned that it’s best to hydrate in face of rigorous heat during the summer, always carry lipbalm during the winter, keep an extra pair of socks in case of missing shower time and that anything can taste better with a magic spell of Tabasco.
Some may criticize me, saying, “Oh, you don’t know what I’ve been through,” “You were a KATUSA. You don’t have right to talk military business.” They must be jealous. They may be jealous because I never had to sleep with 20 other soldiers on a wooden floor, except during a months-long training season. They may be jealous because I always had chances to go home during the weekends, although I blew a lot of those chances for extra responsibilities, along with stupid mistakes. They may even say that the dining hall food that was served was better quality than theirs. Good for you.
I do have many events to cite how my military service as a KATUSA has been challenging, but I shouldn’t elaborate. Most people who may take this writing personally and offensively may not want to spend a second to listen what I have to say, so I should stop.
There were times I felt like I was struck by lightning. My mind was paralyzed by the misfortunes of being sent from Camp Hovey to Camp Carroll. My arms were numb during painstaking hours of physical punishment. Upcoming physical fitness tests gave me numerous sleepless nights. I would wake up everyday at 6 a.m., still half-asleep, reaching for my glasses. Changeless daily routine made me feel like a laboratory mouse, trapped into an uncertainty, while no delight could be promised. I often sobbed in my shower, wondering why I had let myself fall into this purgatory. I wasn’t born to be a soldier, and not for once had I dreamt myself holding a rifle in uniform. Just like most of the past service members who had walked my path, I fit myself into the system.
This is a day to be remembered. I’m proud to change my current job from "soldier" to "free human being" on Facebook. Tonight, I will also change my profile photo on Linkedin from the one in my military uniform to the one with a nice suit on.
As the United States Declaration of Independence states, I am re-granted “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” I have given up the most valuable asset of anyone’s life: time. During the 21 months, I hope trivial work of mine has granted other people a comfortable sleep under comfortable sheets on a comfortable Korean peninsula.