Auckland Airman serving in Korea
Flight Lieutenant Rob Bexley works in the most heavily militarised frontier in the world, helping prevent tension escalating between the hundreds of thousands of North and South Korean troops stationed on either side.
As one of the armistice monitors with United Nations Command on the Korean Peninsula, the New Zealand Defence Force (NZDF) officer helps monitor the transportation corridor in the southern fence line of the 250 kilometre-long demilitarised zone (DMZ) separating South and North Korea.
“Our team monitors the western crossing point into North Korea,” said Flight Lieutenant Bexley, who is the Assistant Corridor Control Officer in the United Nations Command Military Armistice Commission Secretariat (UNCMAC-S).
“We also inspect guard posts and observation posts in the DMZ’s southern partition to ensure the South Korean troops comply with limits on weapons and defensive measures and understand the rules of engagement.”
The US-led UNCMAC Secretariat monitors and supervises the 1953 Armistice Agreement that suspended hostilities between North Korea and United Nations forces defending South Korea. New Zealand and a number of other countries support the Armistice Agreement through the deployment of personnel.
The NZDF has a long history of involvement in South Korea since the outbreak of war in 1950 and has contributed to the UNCMAC-S since 2003. It currently has five members monitoring the armistice and performing operational, education, liaison and corridor control function for the UNCMAC-S.
Flight Lieutenant Bexley, who works as part of a team led by a Danish Army major, said their emphasis was on avoiding breaches and preventing issues from escalating.
“The atmosphere in the DMZ is tense,” he said. “For the South Korean troops stationed here the threat from North Korea is real and immediate.
“The threat comes not just from the missiles but also the artillery along the border and, more recently, the large unmanned aerial vehicles.”
With the concertina wire, high fences, floodlights, cameras and several hundred thousand soldiers on each side of the demarcation line that splits South and North Korea, working in the DMZ was a reminder that South and North Korea remained technically at war, he said.
“Working alongside dedicated and professional military personnel and contributing to peace on the peninsula have been very satisfying.”
As he has done on previous deployments, he has with him a family bible that his grandfather and great grandfather took with them while serving during the two world wars.
“My grandfather gave it to me after I completed basic training 16 years ago and I’ve taken it with me on all my major deployments,” he said.
“Although the operations I have been on cannot be compared to what they fought through, I brought it as a talisman of sorts to keep me safe.”
Born and raised in Hobsonville in West Auckland, Flight Lieutenant Bexley joined the Royal New Zealand Navy in 2001 after completing a bachelor’s degree in information systems at Massey University.
He was commissioned as a Sub-Lieutenant in 2007 and shifted to the Royal New Zealand Air Force in 2012.