Life, Once Again! - Chapter 755
“New guy, watch him well. There’s no one in the battalion, heck, the entire brigade who can install a 992 faster than him,” Hyungseok said to the private who had been here for less than a week.
The way the new recruit sat upright so tensely and had a nervous expression reminded him of when he was a private, making him laugh.
“Corporal Yoon Hyungseok, we got mastar.”
“Aren’t there any other flavors?”
“Corporal Park Taein told me that this was it.”
“Damn the Supply department. I know there’s more in the warehouse. Anyway, thanks.”
The private first class holding a box of canned drinks walked over to the other platoon members. Hyungseok gave his drink to the private next to him.
“You can have it.”
He saw the private holding still while grabbing the can with both hands. This guy had just adapted to the air in the base, so he should be acting carefully about everything he did. As Hyungseok had to sleep while wearing a gas mask after coughing once, Hyungseok could understand how he felt. The military drove people to become introverted, passive, and inefficient fast. The reason why the higher-ranking soldiers looked slow was not because they had become lazy but because they were enlightened on the aesthetics of efficiency.
“Did they begin?” Youngjin asked as he undid the belt on his military gear.
Hyungseok shook his head and looked forward. On the drill grounds were various military supplies from various battalions. Centered around the TPQ-37 radar, which looked like it wouldn’t have a dent even if a bus crashed into it at 140km per hour, there was various communications equipment, and next to it were bags containing the building set for the 992 mast antenna. Next to those bags were people representing the Signals platoon from each battalion, waiting for the start sign while exercising.
“Do you think anyone can win against Corporal Han?”
“A dude from Charlie said they got a devil at installing 992s.”
“A devil? Can a devil win against corporal Han?”
“I wouldn’t know.”
“What became of the bet? I was planning to bet some as well.”
Hyungseok took out a military notepad. It was one of the basic supplies, but no one actually used it. Hyungseok used it as a betting ledger.
“All the ahjussi from alfa bet on corporal Han. Hey, does this bet have any meaning?”
Hyungseok slid his finger down the ledger. It looked like people would win about 100 won if Han Maru won. He would usually take a portion of the wins as a tip, but it looked like he wouldn’t be able to do that with this bet.
“It ain’t looking good.”
Hyungseok put the notepad inside his pocket.
Today was the second day of the brigade’s field tactical training. While it might sound grand at a glance, it was no different from ordinary specialty training. If there was one difference, it was that there was a match of specialties against other battalions within the brigade. Transport versus transport, administration versus administration, geodesy versus geodesy. Even soldiers who were unenthusiastic about training fired themselves up when they were up against other battalions.
Signals was no different. Not only that, it wasn’t just their pride on the line today.
“Corporal Han, we believe in you. Please bestow us with pork belly,” Gitae said as he came back after finishing his shift. The task the signals competitors were given was to install a 10-meter tall giant antenna alone. It wasn’t just the soldiers that made a bet on this match. Hyungseok gained intel that the signals officers from the battalions and the brigade had bet money on this. The platoon that won would have a barbecue party.
“New guy. You haven’t tried installing a 992 yet, have you?”
“Private Kim Dohoon! No, I have not!”
“That tall thing over there is a 992. Do you think you can put that up by yourself?”
“I-I don’t think I can.”
“Punk. You’re supposed to answer ‘yes I can’ at a time like this, okay?”
“There will come a time when you have to install it by yourself later anyway. Watch how corporal Han does today and learn. He’ll show you what it means to be a god at your specialty,” Hyungseok said as he looked at the 992 antenna that they installed last night.
The antenna, which had six metal pikes extruding in different directions at the top like lightning rods, was taller than a person when standing upright, and the support pillar, more commonly known as the mast, was taller than an ordinary tree. When it stood upright, it was like a palm tree with all of its leaves stripped, and since there was no way such a tall structure could stand by itself, the building kit included robes and pegs to fix it in place so that it didn’t fall down in the wind.
The representatives of each battalion, standing in a line on the drill grounds, were tasked with carrying, unpacking, and installing all the equipment, which weighed several dozen kilograms in total. It was fortunate that it was summer since there were no difficulties with anchoring pegs into the ground as the ground wasn’t frozen. Anchoring large stake-like pegs into the ground in the middle of winter was an excruciating thing.
“It’s beginning,” Youngjin said.
The officer with a stopwatch stood in front of the signals soldiers and shouted ‘ready’. The soldiers got ready to rush forward. At the start signal, people carried their 992 building kits to their designated locations.
The first one to arrive at his designated location with the equipment was Maru. He opened the kit bag and started throwing the installation materials inside to various places. He placed the pegs, the ropes, and even the base of the antenna in their precise locations before picking up a hammer. The hammer landed precisely on top of the peg that he had fixed in place with his boots. He was doing that while the signals soldiers from other battalions were still organizing their kits.
“I still don’t understand. How is corporal Han so strong?”
“I don’t know. You saw him last time, right? When he climbed a frigging mountain with two generators in each hand while carrying a roll of cables on his back. Back then, I almost called corporal Han Maru God. How many kilograms is that? The generators were full of oil too.”
“It was the peak during base maintenance. While we were struggling to carry one sandbag, he was carrying two on each shoulder.”
“He isn’t human. He doesn’t look that bulky compared to me.”
“I heard he did some boxing. Do you think it’s because of that?”
“It’s not that. It’s because his bones are thick. He was born with a worker’s body. That’s not something working out can get you.”
While he was talking to his colleagues, Maru had fixed the antenna support on the ground and was starting to pull the mast up. It was telescopically structured so that it could be pulled out like radio antennas. The difference was that unlike radio antennas, which were pulled out from the tip, it was pushed up from the bottom. Hyungseok clicked his tongue as he looked at the mast that practically sprouted into the air. Although the 992 antenna was something that people could install alone with some proficiency, not anyone could raise one that quickly. The people from other battalions started murmuring. There were people who were just starting to connect the antenna rods together, but Maru had already installed the antennas on the mast and was raising it up.
“What the hell is he?”
“I’m sure he must have greased the mast at least. How is it possible to raise it so smoothly?”
He could understand the feelings of the signals soldier from the neighboring battalion. Hyungseok also felt the same when he saw Maru installing an antenna for the first time; is he freaking human?
While others were busy raising the masts, Maru finished up his cable management. He gathered the scattered tools into one neat pile and shouted ‘finished’. The signals soldiers from other battalions looked pitiful as they were installing their antennas.
“We’re gonna get pork belly once we finish the training exercise,” Hyungseok said as he clenched his fist.
* * *
“Did anyone manage to break Sarge Han’s record?” Hyungseok asked as he stopped the car.
Gitae, who was on his smartphone at the back, shook his head.
“Not a single one. Whether it’s 992, RLI, or even making a trip with a reel of cables, there’s no one who broke his records.”
“Sarge Han should have gotten into sports, not acting. If he was in Taeneung right now, I’m sure he must have won a medal in the Olympics by now.”
“Yeah, that’s for sure.”
Hyungseok was reminded of when Maru leisurely hammered anchor pegs into the frozen ground during sub-zero training. Maru managed to anchor a peg into the ground with two or three hits of the hammer while three private first classes couldn’t anchor one. That matter became a legend among the platoon for a while.
“Thinking about it now, Sarge Han was way too good.”
“Yeah, he was way too good. If he actually stayed in the military, he might have become a warrant officer as a technician quickly.”
“He would have done well regardless of what he did. Even the staff listened to him.”
“He was the first sergeant’s man.”
“The first sergeant always asked ‘hey, where’s Han Maru?’ whenever it was maintenance season.”
Han Maru was always called out by the first sergeant when he became a corporal. People jokingly said that the HQ company’s work would come to a halt without Han Maru.
“He said he only did acting outside, so how’s he so good at work? It’s still a mystery to me.”
“Me too. People might think of him as a master of manual labor. The matters we took a couple of hours to finish with Sarge Han took more than an entire day with others.”
“His proficiency with his specialty is one thing, but he was truly a god of work.”
God of work, that was one of Maru’s nicknames.
“Do you think the pet house we made is still there?”
“It should be if no one tore it down.”
Hyungseok recalled the two cats that had become fat like pigs. Just then, the smartphone on his thigh started ringing. The caller was someone he had been waiting for.
“Sarge Han, where are you? We’re in Daehak-ro right now.”
-Sorry about that. There was a change of order in the events.
“What do you mean by that?”
-I need to do my play now.
“What? Is this how you’re treating us even though it’s been a year?”
-I’m not saying that I won’t meet you. I’m saying that you’ll have to wait about an hour. You can go look around Daehak-ro or something. There should be many people doing street performances since the weather is good, so there should be nothing better than those to kill time.
“You want four stinky men to walk around Daehak-ro on a Saturday afternoon? Are you picking a fight with me?”
-Go to a PC-bang or something then. I’ll go pick you up once I’m done.
“Why would we go to the PC-bang?”
When Hyungseok grumbled, Gitae, who was sitting in the back, asked,
“What is it?”
“Han Maru, this guy, is going to start his play right now.”
“Hand it to me for a sec.”
He gave the phone over to Gitae.
“Yes, hyung, it’s me, Gitae. Are you doing your play right now? Then we’ll go watch you. Where is it? Do we need to buy the tickets there? Oh, you’re going to tell them for us? Okay.”
After replying with a few yeses, Gitae hung up.
“You want us to watch a play?” Hyungseok said as he got his phone back.
“I’ve never watched one before. Also, I want to know what kind of play Sarge Han does. And hey, Hyungseok, didn’t you say you were preparing to be an actor? It’s good to watch things like this.”
“Hey, do you think an actor for a play is the same as an actor for a film? They’re completely different.”
“Your words sound like you’re a bigshot actor when you aren’t. Shut up and let’s get off. I know the location now, so we should just go there.”
Beomsoo, who had been listening this whole time, spoke as well,
“Goddammit. Four stinky men are going to watch another stinky man. And a play at that too. What a time we live in.”
“My words exactly.”
Hyungseok got out of the car while laughing in vain. Han Maru’s acting, huh. Now that he heard about it, he did feel a little curious. As someone who also wished to become an actor, it shouldn’t be that bad to watch a senior’s acting.
“Let’s go boys,” he said as he took the lead.
 AS-992K. Mast antenna for long-range communication. Frequently used in training.
 A brand of canned fruit drinks supplied to the South Korean military.
 A radar dish antenna for wireless communication. Not sure what it stands for.
 Taeneung has a large sports complex for Olympic athletes.