War Stories

After relinquishing command of my battalion, I was headed off to my next assignment and for family reasons, decided to head back to Korea… again.

At the time my assignments manager was a guy that had worked for me at Fort Leavenworth, albeit briefly. The reason it was briefly is something you can ask me about another time. Preferably over beers. I promise, the story is much more entertaining that way.

Anyway, he tells me that I had a choice between two assignments–one, was the 2nd Infantry Division G-5 (plans), or I could be assigned to the United States Forces Korea (USFK) staff as the head speechwriter for the commanding general. Thinking that I would rather commit ritual seppuku than be a planner, I opted for the speechwriting job instead.

Now, if you’ve never been a speechwriter let me tell you a little secret. It’s an artform all its own. It’s a type of writing that I had never been exposed to, and being the career grunt that I am–was completely unfamiliar with. But I did it… mostly so I could live and work in Seoul. Which if you’ve never been there, I highly recommend that you check it out.


I ended up working for the 4-star and if you’ve never met one of those cats let me tell you something else. They are smart. I believe in Boston the term would be “Wicked Smaaht.”

Now, the hard part about writing speeches is “putting yourself in character” and taking on the voice of your principal. Imagine writing in the voice of a man that has an IQ like a phone number. And I don’t. Yeah… it was a hoot.

It was a good thing I had a deputy speechwriter who was a really sharp “kid” who also happened to be a West Point grad. He was an intelligence officer who totally lived up to the stereotype–living and breathing science fiction (God bless him!). I swear he screamed like a girl when the first Star Wars Episode VII trailer came out on Youtube, and he must have watched it on a constant loop in the office for something like four hours straight. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

But I digress…

Anyway, I survived the speechwriter gig and even grew to like it, even though many of the staff officers I had to interact with on a daily basis were less than helpful. That’s putting it mildly. It took me a good six months to put myself in the boss’s skin and adopt his voice, and about the same about of time to figure out the rest of the nuances of the job (one such nuance was that he wanted us all to know how to read and write in Korean, so that we would write the names of Korean people in Hangul–so that he would pronounce their names properly).

Unfortunately after a single year of living the good life in Seoul I was reassigned and had to head south to Pyeongtaek and work on the 8th Army staff. Don’t get me wrong, I really enjoyed working with everyone at 8th Army–they were and still are a solid bunch of professionals–but it wasn’t living in Seoul, and that was kind of a bummer.

So, if I were to get the opportunity to be a speechwriter again, would I do it?

Hell no.

But I’m damned glad I had the experience. I really learned a lot and it broadened my horizons quite a bit. And now I get to give shit to the poor bastard speechwriter that works here at my current job!

Row faster!

Published by Shane Gries

World-travelling adventurer with a dry wit and a taste for single malt whisky. Spent my entire adult life in uniform and most of that as an infantryman--with all the accompanying ailments one would expect from such a lifestyle. Looking forward to the day when I can dedicate myself to writing full time, cutting firewood, and pursuing the elusive white tail.

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