THE SUN IS SETTING ON THE SITE of the Greater Camp Bonifas Open, a
one-hole, 170-yard golf course with bunkers -- the military kind --
on one side and minefields on the other. Just 200 yards away is the
Demilitarized Zone between North and South Korea, making the Camp
Bonifas links the most dangerous golf course in the world. ''Hook one
off the tee and you're in real trouble,'' says Col. John Patrick,
commander of the 400-man United Nations security force based there.
Col. Patrick's command -- composed almost equally of South Korean
and U.S. troops -- are some of the toughest, most athletic fighting
men anywhere. They are handpicked by Col. Patrick and other officers
from troops that arrive almost daily in Seoul, 32 miles away, and
many of them have already served with other elite units, such as the
Delta Force and Ranger units. ''It is a continuing cold war of
intimidation with the North Koreans,'' he says. ''Every day they can
see us up close and personal. It is important that the image we give
is one of strength, discipline, size and readiness. We want to give
them an indication of what they would expect to find if they attacked
Conveying such a message was especially important as the Olympics
approached, because of fears that North Korea might attempt to
sabotage the Games. Those fears were not fully allayed by on-again,
off-again talk that North Korea might yet accept the International
Olympic Committee's longstanding offer to allow the Communist state
to host some of the events. These include a cycling road race, that,
under the IOC proposal, would pass through the truce settlement of
Panmunjom, near where the camp is located. Col. Patrick calls that
prospect ''a nightmare.''
Camp Bonifas has lived through nightmares before. In 1984 a South
Korean soldier and three North Korean soldiers were killed and one
American soldier was injured in a skirmish that broke out when a
Soviet student defected by dashing across the border. And in 1976 two
American MPs -- including Capt. Arthur Bonifas, for whom the camp is
named -- were axed to death by North Korean soldiers while
supervising a detachment that was pruning a tree. ''This is one of
two places in the world where you have direct contact with the enemy
((Berlin being the other)),'' says Lt. Jeff Helmick. ''We see the
North Koreans through our glasses. They have calluses on their hands
from splitting trees in Tae Kwon Do practice, and they have nails in
their boots to make their feet better weapons. Once we saw some
Muslims on the North Korean side. They realized we were looking at
them and they gave us the slit-the-throat motion.''
The Camp Bonifas regulars take their jobs seriously. During their
12-month tours, they rarely leave the base or drink more than a
couple of beers at a time. They also rarely see women, because female
soldiers aren't stationed there. As a result, the enlisted men's club
is called The Sanctuary and the officers' club The Monastery. The
officers at Camp Bonifas are known as The Merry Mad Monks of the DMZ.
To relieve Quonset-hut fever, the men repair to the playing
fields. Besides the golf course (the brainchild of Col. Patrick, a
golfer at Wake Forest in the early '60s), Camp Bonifas boasts six
weight rooms, two racquetball courts, a swimming pool, a basketball
court and a tennis court; there are also more tennis and basketball
courts and a combination softball-soccer-helicopter- landing field
nearby. A $100,000 multipurpose athletic field is expected to be
installed by 1991. ''Without the recreation facilities a lot of
people couldn't handle being up here,'' says Specialist Robert Grant,
a 21-year-old military policeman. ''We've got a lot of pressure on
us, especially lately with all of the demonstrations in Seoul.
Lifting or playing ball takes a lot of the pressure off. You can get
away from it.''
Capt. Cornell Morris, 32, is an example of what Grant is talking
about. A third-degree black belt in karate, he begins his day at 4:30
a.m. with 50 push-ups and 100 sit-ups. Then he does a three-mile jog
and puts in an hour in the weight room before he goes to work.
Then there's Sgt. Elvis Owens, who ran a 4:50 mile and did 104
push-ups and 104 sit-ups in four minutes in last year's physical
training test. Now he directs the Headquarters and Service Company --
one of the two companies on the base -- through conditioning drills
three times a week.
Victor Vanison, a 21-year-old specialist from Washington, D.C.,
spends every free moment on the basketball court. When he can't find
a game, the 6 ft. 2 in. Vanison works on his outside shot and his
slam dunk. ''This can't compare with the competition in D.C.,'' he
says. ''But I'm a better player from being here. I have a lot more
time to practice. What else is there to do here?''
You can see what Vanison means when you run the five-mile training
course, which terminates at one of the three tunnels discovered by
U.S. troops since the mid-'70s, presumably dug by the North Koreans
to sneak soldiers across the border. The course is lined with
minefields, making cross-country work a little dicey. The only people
in sight are guards from a South Korean Army camp who salute each
passing runner. South Korean propaganda music meant for the enemy's
ears blares from a huge tower at the camp. ''Sometimes they play
pretty good stuff, though'' says 46-year-old Sgt. Maj. Bobby Parker
as he pads along down the trail. ''I'll be running this course, and
something good comes on and it keeps me going.''
Reveille sounds every morning at 5:45, just as the North Koreans
turn down their propaganda music. The propaganda barrages usually
stop during the day, when the tourists are around. Shortly after
reveille, the soldiers assemble on the basketball court for roll
call. Then they separate into three groups based on their performance
in a special two-mile trial run. The six GIs who finished in under 12
minutes form one group. Their reward is 20 100-meter sprints carrying
another GI on their backs. They make it look easy. A second group,
made up of the under-14 minute finishers, starts doing circuit
training, while the third group, those out-of-shape slackers who
could only manage 16 minutes, heads for the weight room.
The U.S. Army used to subscribe to the notion of ''no pain, no
gain.'' Soldiers rarely did any running without packs and spent a lot
of time doing deep knee bends and jumping jacks. But that regimen,
says Sgt. Owens, ''wasn't good for developing upper-body strength.''
So now Camp Bonifas uses a newly designed program that stresses
The South Korean soldiers, fully integrated in every aspect of the
mission, add martial arts to their workout. Each is required to be
at least a first- degree black belt in one of the disciplines, and
for most of them that means Tae Kwon Do. ''We get our best soldiers
here,'' says Lt. Yang Ik-Jun. ''We practice Tae Kwon Do two hours a
day, and our men improve. We are very tough.''
The toughest of them compose half of the Joint Security Force
Company, which guards the buildings at Panmunjom and serves as the
Quick Reaction Force. In that unit, the men eat, sleep and work out
in fatigues and boots in order to be ready for combat at any minute.
At night they dine and read by infrared light so that if they are
attacked, their eyes won't have to adjust to the dark.
Besides the barracks and barren workroom, the QRF site has a
basketball court, a large sandpit for hand-to-hand combat practice,
pull-up bars and a set of weights. Every morning the QRF troops run
three miles in boots, carrying M-16s in the ready position.
At 11 a.m. last June 28, many of the soldiers stood near a small
TV set waiting for the telecast of the Tyson-Spinks fight to begin
over the Korea Armed Forces Network. Beds were unmade; two soldiers
slept with their boots on. ''This is not a spit-and-polish place,''
said Capt. Jorge Rangel. ''We go on live patrols with live
ammunition. This is the real enemy. We have to be ready.''
A group of officers crowded around the large-screen TV in The
Monastery. When it became clear the fight was still 15 minutes away,
a colonel who had helicoptered in for the daily meeting with the
enemy at Panmunjom said, ''Well, the North Koreans will have to
wait.'' Over a walkie-talkie the voice of Maj. Keith Cromartie, Col.
Patrick's executive officer, crackled, ''Has the fight started yet?''
September 13, 1988
The radio next to the open telephone lines that are maintained
between the North and South to discuss urgent disputes was tuned to a
Chicago White Sox- Texas Rangers game. ''We live for sports up
here,'' said Capt. George Geczy, who played on the West Point tennis
team. ''We fight over the sports pages.''
Because of the demanding schedules, Camp Bonifas's soldiers rarely
compete in military sports championships. Still, there have been some
moments of glory. This year's basketball team, for instance, won the
Western Quarter title, and the soccer team took the 1987 U.S.
The camp puts on games of its own whenever it gets a chance. And
they frequently turn into highly charged affairs. A recent softball
game against a team from nearby Camp Liberty Bell, which is a U.S.
facility, is a case in point. Some of the Liberty Bell players had
just returned from a patrol of the border, and they had
green-and-black camouflage paint smeared on their arms and faces.
Early in the game Maj. Cromartie, a former hurdler at Middle
Tennessee State, flew over the field in a helicopter and tried to
rally his forces. ''O.K.,'' he shouted. ''Hit one in the air over the
helipad and it's a six-pack.'' That was all they needed to hear; they
blasted four over-the- helipad dingers and won 7-2.
''The best thing about sports up here is that it gives us the
opportunity to beat on each other for a while,'' says Capt. Donald
Kell, a former center for the Tennessee-Chattanooga basketball team.
''We let everything out. Everyone here is very competitive.''
Some, however, are more competitive than others. Paul Kuhn is a
21-year-old specialist who spends three hours a day working out.
Someday he hopes to compete for bodybuilding trophies. ''If people
respect anything around here, it's muscles,'' he says. ''You can have
the best brain in the world, but where is it going to get you?''
By the way, Specialist Kuhn works in military intelligence.