What’s your name?
Desiree Martinez (aka mommy) lol
What brought you to South Korea and is this your first time in the country?
My husband in the United States Air Force and we had the unique opportunity to join him for his one-year assignment. Yes, it was my first time in South Korea.
As military personnel, how much of the region do you get to explore when you are stationed in a country?
We were free to explore all of South Korea and we definitely did! We wanted to experience as much of it as we could. We went to Busan, Jinhae, and frequently went to Seoul. We also spent my husbands mid-tour vacation in Tokyo, which has been a BIG bucket list item for both of us. We got to eat our way through the beautiful city and experience SO many things we had been dying to see
What’s the best and worst military job and why?
The best part is being a part of a wonderful and unique family you can’t get anywhere else. These are people I can turn to for almost anything, big or small. I have made friends for life from the different communities we have gotten to be a part of. It is so true that it is never good-bye, just see you later. The worst part is the tole it takes on your emotional and mental health. We are a military family during a time of war. Being forcibly separated from your spouse is so hard and has taken its tole.
How much choice do you have in what you do?
As a civilian, I can do whatever I want (lol) but my husband has very strict rules about what he can and can’t do even when he is on leave. There are ongoing rules and regulations we both have to abide by, but his are much more limiting. For example, while in South Korea, there is a very strict curfew of 0100. Those who violate this rule risk demotion and doc in pay.
What’s the pay like?
Anyone at any time can go online and see what different ranking military members make. But the untold truth is what the actually make. There are some amazing benefits that should also get a price tag attached to them like medical insurance, life insurance, and our basic housing allowance. An e4 with a dependents makes roughly $55,000-$60,000 when you add it all up, but their take home is around $22,000.
Do you get a chance to mingle and meet many of the locals?
We were adamant about immersing ourselves in the culture. We lived off base, shopped local, traveled on public transportation, and even put our kids in an all Korean daycare. This allowed us to live like locals as best as we could. Our kids are now fluent in Hangul (the Korean language) and we were forced into situations to learn words to get us what we needed.
How are you received by people in South Korea when they see or realize that you’re part of the American military?
We met VERY few unfriendly Korea people. Everyone was so patient with us and loved all over my kids. We feel that being respectful of people’s culture and language, along with a friendly smile, gets you very far. One of the rules of the military (OPSEC) is to not draw attention to yourself as military members, so we did our best to be under the radar.
There might be someone out there thinking about joining the military. What’s the best advice you’d give them to prepare?
I grew up a military kid and I married my husband he enlisted, so I have seen and experienced my fair share of military life. Really think about what your situation in life is and what you are willing to give up or tolerate. My husband and I made the decision to go in for the long-term benefits like a college education, the medical insurance we needed to have children, and the lifelong benefits from being a Veteran, but we are only doing the one-term contract. If you want consistency, education, and to experience different parts of the world or even your own country going career in the Military great. If you want your college to be paid for and give you work experience or to have good footing for starting your family, doing a one time contract for Military life is another great option. Another way to look at it would be to look at the Reserves and see if that is an option for you as well.
If you had friends planning to spend only 24 hours in South Korea, what would you suggest that they see or do?
Go to Seoul and hit up Dragon Hill Spa and experience an authentic Korean bathhouse (called a jjimjilbang) and then find alleys with food to try. You can’t go wrong with most food in Korea. Make sure to ride the subway and go shopping at Yongsan Station and pick-up some Korean face masks and get some socks. Last, go to Jongyisa Temple to pray to buddha and go across the street to the visitor center to build a lotus flower with a real Korean Munk.