CAMP HUMPHREYS, South Korea — Command Sgt. Maj. Benjamin Lemon sits at an empty desk against blank white walls. Just a few weeks ago the same space was decorated in sports paraphernalia and military awards. Now only government furniture remains, a testament to the adage, “the Army goes rolling along.”
After two and a half years, Lemon is relinquishing responsibility of U.S. Army Garrison Humphreys. A ceremony scheduled for the following week will make his transition official, ushering in a new senior enlisted advisor, Command Sgt. Maj. Monty Drummond.
Drummond is with Lemon now, the latter holding still as a cameraman from the Armed Forces Network adjusts his microphone in preparation for this exit interview. Lemon discusses the importance of keeping the community informed, while Drummond leans in, noting the details.
During a pause in the conversation a question is asked: “Sergeant major, are you ready?”
Lemon turns in his chair to face the camera.
Plans vs COVID
How does one begin to prepare for leading a garrison?
“Nothing in the military prepares you to do city management,” said Lemon. “They give you a lot of statistics and tell you a lot of things about infrastructure and facilities – so that’s what I thought I would be doing. But a global pandemic kind of had a little bit more of a say so.”
Lemon arrived in Korea June 1 of 2020, during the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic. The policy at the time required Lemon to quarantine for 14 days, a measure designed to help prevent the spread of COVID. Lemon said quarantine allowed him to settle in before jumping into his responsibilities.
“It gave me a little bit of time to learn what the mission was, because nothing was really moving,” said Lemon. “At the same time, we tired to figure out a new mission: how to take care of a base of more than 40-thousand people in the middle of a pandemic. We were basically building the COVID fight plan in flight.”
Part of the plan was determining how to diagnose COVID, how to treat it, and how to quarantine - all while operating in a foreign country. Lemon explained how Camp Humphreys had to balance the health and welfare of the people on the installation while also maintaining operational readiness. Normal maintenance and sustainment were able to continue; however, many projects had to come to a complete stop.
Despite the obstacles, the garrison command team worked together, eventually pulling projects “over the finish line” during Lemon’s time at Camp Humphreys. The post expanded, opening two restaurants, three family housing towers, five barracks, and a pet-care center.
“We had a lot of goodness that came about (after COVID) and we have more projects coming up as well,” said Lemon.
Everybody needs a voice
While some garrison issues maintain inherent levels of priority, cultivating an environment that provides an avenue for all voices to feel included was an issue Lemon chose to champion. Specifically Lemon focused on providing support for the LGBTQI+ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, and Intersex) community.
“We had a lot of folks here who felt that inclusion wasn’t the way it needed to be here,” said Lemon. “I had a chance to talk to some really great community members, and we were able to put on some good events during Pride Month for them.”
Lemon also joined in efforts to organize Juneteenth celebrations on the installation which became a national holiday in 2021.
“We did our first Juneteenth event before it became a national holiday,” said Lemon. “So, I think we were a little more cutting edge on that.”
Additionally, Better Opportunities for Single Soldiers (BOSS) is a program Lemon has supported since his arrival. Unlike BOSS programs in the United States, which focuses mainly on single Soldiers, the BOSS program in Korea also includes unaccompanied Soldiers as well as Korean Augmentation To the United States Army soldiers (KATUSAs). While Lemon said his role requires him to support the BOSS program, he believes it deserves special attention.
“A large majority of the Soldiers that we have here are straight out of (advanced individual training),” said Lemon. “Some of them have never been far from home let alone in a foreign country. BOSS bridges that gap.”
Lemon said the actives organized on the installation can help Soldiers enjoy their time in Korea while also helping them learn how to solve their own problems and learn about healthy relationships. This combination aids command teams in readiness. Lemon said the problems, as well as opportunities, Soldiers face today are different than when he arrived to Korea, as a junior Soldier, 27 years ago. It is part of his responsibility to hear from junior Soldiers and to champion the issues important to them.
“The ability to have everyone feel like they are included and have a voice amongst the community, and really feel needed and wanted - that was some of the things I tried to champion while I was here,” said Lemon. “Everybody needs a voice - especially here.”
The next duty station for the Lemon family will be Fort Knox, Ky, the home of Human Resources Command. Lemon will be returning to his career management field becoming the military intelligence branch manager. While he looks forward to his next position, there are aspects of his current position he will miss.
“You get to see immediate results of the things you do,” said Lemon. Some projects, such as the creation of a new building, can take three to five years; however, in his role as the senior enlisted advisor to the garrison commander, Lemon was able to connect various organizations and agencies to help them accomplish short-term, and sometimes urgent, goals.
More than the garrison missions, Lemon said he will miss the location. Of the different aspects of living in the land of the morning calm, Lemon said the Korean people and culture is what he will miss the most.
“The hospitality here is very different. Everyone’s been very loving,” he said. “Also, the safety - the ability to allow my children to get in a cab and go anywhere they need to go, that’s one of the biggest things I’ll miss about being in Korea.”
His appreciation for the Korean people was reflected in a farewell lunch during which he addressed many members of the local Pyeongtaek community, where Camp Humphreys is located.
“Thank you for having me; thank you for having my family,” said Lemon. “Thank you for opening your doors to your country to us. It’s been the most rewarding experience I’ve had in my career.”
As the interview draws to a close, Lemon is given the opportunity to observe his own time in Korea - what advice would current Command Sgt. Maj. Lemon tell the version of him first arriving to Korea?
A difficult question, Lemon confesses, taking a moment to consider his answer. After a few seconds, he turns to answer.
“Listen more. The garrison is totally different with a totally different workforce than more of your traditional units where you have mostly Soldiers,” said Lemon. “Just listen more. If you listen more, chances are the answers will appear.”
Lemon emphasized the importance of working with employees and Soldiers to help them become the “best person they can be.” He mentions the service culture campaign, which he summarizes as: “Know your people, take care of your people, reward your people, and give them honest feedback to make them better people.”
“I love people more than I love the Army,” said Lemon. “It just so happens that the Army is made up of people. I get a chance to tackle both at the same time.”
In less than 30 minutes the interview is over.
Lemon sits back, exhaling with a smile.
Then with a burst of energy he jumps forward toward the still-filming camera.
“That’s a wrap!"