Army Command Sgt. Maj. John W. Troxell, the senior enlisted advisor to Marine Corps Gen. Joe Dunford, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, accompanied Dunford on his recent trip to South Korea, but while Dunford attended high level meetings with other defense officials, Troxell set out to see how the troops were doing on “Freedom’s Frontier,” as he called it: The DMZ dividing South Korea from its aggressive neighbors to the north.

I felt the need to go up to the Demilitarized Zone outside of the Joint Security Area and go to an area where I could get an unfiltered look at the North Koreans and what their demeanor, what their disposition, what their posture was in light of all of this rhetoric,” Troxell said.

He also wanted to meet directly with South Korean troops to gain a better sense of their level of combat readiness, as well as their morale.

Troxell is no stranger to this part of the world, nor is he unfamiliar with the American allied South Korean forces.  His previous posting was as the senior enlisted leader for U.S. Forces Korea and Combined Forces Command.

The Sergeant Major took heart that, despite the heightening tensions between the North Korean government and the U.S. led group of allies in the region, operations just beyond the demilitarized zone appeared to be business as usual.

They were on security,” he said. “They were observing into the South, especially when I got there — a lot of folks with binoculars trying to figure out what we were doing. But their patrols did not seem like they were in any more enhanced readiness than what they normally are.”

Troxell’s experience on the Korean peninsula allows him a unique insight into the complex nature of the threat posed by Kim’s regime.  Their military is poorly trained, under equipped, and often, under fed, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t dangerous.

There’s 750,000 North Korean troops on the DMZ, out of a more than 1.1 million man and woman force,” Troxell said. “But we haven’t seen them do a combined arms maneuver in 20 years. They fire about five to 10 rounds out of their rifles a year. And a good part of them have been diagnosed as being medically frail.”

“But there are 750,000 of them,” he continued. “So if you end up in conflict and you got full magazines of ammunition, you better not miss.”

Army Command Sgt. Maj. John W. Troxell, the senior enlisted advisor to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, speaks to reporters en route to Washington, D.C. (U.S. Army Photo)

When visiting American troops stationed near the border, Troxell noticed a palpable difference in mindset.  South Koreans, by and large, have not been as concerned with the possibility of war with North Korea as many Americans are, and that mindset continues into the ranks of the two nations’ militaries.

“Obviously, they pay attention a lot more to the news than the [South Koreans] do, and certainly more than the North Koreans,” he said. “There was a lot more heightened sense of, ‘Hey, we got to be ready.'”

Among the areas of focus for American troops in the region is the possibility of subterranean warfare, as North Korea has been known to dig tunnels under the demilitarized zone that could be used as a means to transfer troops or supplies into South Korea while avoiding detection.

“Subterranean warfare is something we have to continue to prepare for,” the sergeant major said. “As a matter of fact, the Army is making subterranean warfare part of their doctrine, and the Marines are going that way too.”

In statements made to Army Public Affairs, Troxel explained that he knows the North Korean military may not be as well-trained or equipped as their potential opponents on the other side of the border, but the mentality they are raised with would, nonetheless, make them formidable opponents.

“If we have to go into high-end conflict, the North Koreans are going to fight,” Troxell said. “They’re prepared to fight and defend their country and defend who they call the Great Leader.”

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Nonetheless, Troxell assured, American troops deployed to South Korea first must undergo what he called a “decisive action training” rotation at the National Training Center in California, and he’s confident in their abilities to fight, and win, a war with North Korea.

“Those guys and gals are absolutely prepared for high-end conflict because they’ve been certified in it,” Troxell said. “They’re ready to fight.”


Feature image courtesy of the Associated Press