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.”