By Franklin FisherMarch 2, 2015
CAMP CASEY -- Because one of the Army's hilltop radio sites not far from Dongducheon rises more than 2,400 feet above rugged, brown and green wilderness, it's no wonder Soldiers there see it as "the middle of nowhere."
Things felt even more remote the frigid night of Jan. 31, when the hot water conked out.
First to make that icy discovery was Staff Sgt. Ledarrell Calvin, who'd only just arrived at the hill that day to begin duty as the sergeant-in-charge of the Soldiers who man the small, austere radio relay station.
"It was frigid, it was freezing, I couldn't even stand it," said Calvin, of Company C, Headquarters and Headquarters Battalion, 2nd Infantry Division.
"I've been deployed four times," he said, "and I will tell you that hot water is a must. Especially being up here in these cold temperatures. Especially when you leave the gym."
No hot water would be bad any time. But on the hill in winter, it meant an even bigger headache.
Ice and snow make the hill's steeply-graded, winding, hardtop road impassable for most of its length. So food, supplies, and for that matter a mechanic or anyone else, can only get in and out on one of the Black Hawk helicopter flights that run twice a month from Camp Casey in Dongducheon.
The Soldiers soon had questions, Calvin said.
"They said, 'Okay, sergeant, when is the hot water gonna be fixed? When are we gonna have it?'"
Calvin phoned the Camp Casey offices of U.S. Army Garrison Red Cloud and Area I's Directorate of Public Works. He talked to Devon Mayers, chief of the electrical branch at the Casey DPW compound.
They tried troubleshooting by phone.
Mayers asked Calvin to go into the mechanical room and check the boiler controls. He did and it was soon clear they'd need mechanic there.
But how? It would be more than two weeks before the next flight.
How long can you and the Soldiers hold out? Mayers asked Calvin.
About two days, until Tuesday, the NCO said.
Mayers next talked to his boss, Kevin N. Clemmons, chief of Casey DPW's utility branch. The only way to help the troops would be to get a mechanic up there on foot.
Mayers then told the heating section foreman, Chong Yu-kwang, they'd need a crew on the hill by Tuesday. It would be a long hike up a steep, icy hill, Mayers told Chong. Mayers, a retired Army master sergeant, said he'd lead them up himself.
"It is a trek to get up there," Mayers told him, "so you're gonna have to get people who are willing to go and who are physically able to get up the hill in those conditions."
The shop foreman's answer impressed Mayers.
"The foreman told me, their job is to support the Soldiers and if they have to go up the hill, if that's what they gotta do, that's what they gotta do," said Mayers. "I was like, Wow!"
That Tuesday, Mayers came to work expecting to lead a crew up the hill.
But foreman Chong and his people were already mission-complete.
The day before, Feb. 1, while many U.S. service members were on a training holiday watching the Super Bowl, the DPW crews turned out for their regular 8 a.m. Monday safety meeting.
That's when Chong gave the job to two of the shop's most seasoned mechanics.
One was Yun Pong-yol, 60, the heating section's lead mechanic, who's worked for Area I DPW for 30 years, and Kim Chin-min, 55, who's worked 27 years for Area I DPW.
To keep their hands free for the climb, Yun and Kim decided to use backpacks to carry their tools.
They got things ready. Straight-head and cross-tip screwdrivers; pipe wrench, crescent wrench, and other wrenches of various types and sizes; needle-nose, channel-lock and regular pliers; an ohmmeter and other tools and equipment.
With the tools each backpack weighed about 20 pounds.
Chong, 58, a man with a broad, weathered face, has worked 34 years at the Casey DPW heating shop. His father worked there for 17 years, until his death in 1980.
Now, before Yun and Kim left, the foreman had a word of caution.
"The hill is very slippery and dangerous, so be careful driving," Chong told them. "You cannot drive to the top. So in the middle, park the vehicle and walk."
Yun, a short, trim man, had on a black parka, black work pants and brown safety boots. Kim, a sturdy-looking, sober-faced man, wore a yellow parka, dark blue pants and gray hiking boots.
At about 8:30 the pair climbed into a blue DPW utility truck and headed out.
No rain or snow was falling but when they arrived at the hill about eight inches of snow lay on the slopes.
For about a third of the way up the road was clear. The rest of the way it was iced over.
They parked, got out, and the long hike started.
It was slow-going and slippery. The road was so steep in places that at times they had to pull themselves up by grasping tree branches and brush. They were breathing hard, Yun said, and had to stop two or three times to rest.
This went on for about 30 minutes or more. Finally, panting, they reached the crest and saw spread before them a compound enclosing the buildings that make up the relay site.
"We're in the middle of nowhere," said Pfc. Luis Garcia, 20, of HHBN's Headquarters and Headquarters Company, a medic from Chino, Calif.
"I see two DPW workers there, standing waiting for me to open the gate," said Garcia.
He let them in.
"It's a very treacherous climb. I just couldn't believe they made the hike with packs full of tools," said Garcia. "They just walked up to the gate like -- nothing."
After a brief break the men got to work in the mechanical room. Calvin had a KATUSA -- a South Korean Soldier assigned to the U.S. Army -- translate for the mechanics.
Meanwhile, a Soldier had a question for Calvin. "'They're here to fix the water?' I said, 'Yes, hopefully.'"
It didn't take the mechanics long to trace the problem to the water circulation pump, which, they found, had a worn part in its electric motor. They had no new motor with them so they had to improvise a fix.
After about three hours, they had the hot water back.
The KATUSA came in with an update for Calvin.
"'Just tell me," said Calvin, "'do we have hot water or not?' And he said 'Yes.'"
The Soldiers were thrilled.
"They definitely loved it, they definitely loved it," said Calvin. "'Cause now they can go to the gym and get a good workout in and then get a hot shower."
As the site's medic, Garcia too thought having the hot water back was a very big deal, especially because lack of hot water could have hindered personal hygiene.
"I mean, nobody likes a cold shower," said Garcia. "And hygiene is a huge issue. You're in close quarters, you're in contact with everybody."
Calvin invited the mechanics to lunch in the hill's small dining facility. Both men had spaghetti, apple juice, and coffee, and were ready to head back.
Calvin knew the trip down could be tricky.
"Going back down is even worse," he said. "You're goin' down a steep, steep, steep slope. There are cliffs on both sides so if you make a mistake it can have serious consequences."
So Calvin set up a safety check. He gave them his cellphone number and said to call when they'd made it down.
He'd wait an hour, he told them, and if he didn't get their call, he, the medic and a party of other Soldiers would come looking.
Yun and Kim got on the road and started down.
"We went down very, very slowly," said Kim, "because of the ice. If we hadn't gone slowly we might have slipped and fallen."
They were at their truck in about 40 minutes.
"Props to them," said Garcia. "Just the fact that they made that hike up here, I mean, they didn't look that young. I want to say in their fifties."
Both Yun and Kim said they were glad the Soldiers had been helped. But hiking the hill to get the job done was just that, part of getting the job done.
"This is my job, to make money and support my family," said Yun.
"It's part of my responsibility," said Kim.
For what they did to restore hot water to the Soldiers, U.S. Army Installation Management Command has named Yun and Kim IMCOM "Heroes of the Week."
To Chong, the heating foreman, meeting the hot water emergency as they did is only in keeping with the garrison's role of supporting Soldiers and the warfighting mission.
When, he said, they got word that Soldiers were without hot water in winter, it triggered one simple thought: "Soldiers? -- First job! Service!'"