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Bellefonte resident, Penn State grad, proud of service in Korea

by on July 06, 2018 9:37 AM

BELLEFONTE — When Derek Bartlett joined the Army 10 years ago, he was hoping to do something that mattered. After a stressful yearlong stint in South Korea, he came back home to Bellefonte recently feeling like he has done that.

Bartlett spent his time near the demilitarized zone looking at things across the 38th parallel, watching what North Korea was doing. He was in control of the artillery that had to be ready to strike if needed. His orders come directly from the White House, which he said means they come from the president. His finger was on the trigger if the United States needed to strike.

“I never had to fire into North Korea, thank God, but I did so much planning,” said Bartlett. He said when tensions were high late last year and North Korea was showing its military might by shooting artillery into the water, his team had to respond and fire into the water as well.

He said he shot missiles into the water three or four times in his year over there, but also spent time doing calculations to hit strategic land targets in case that was what his higher-ups wanted to do.

“It was really intense. In the moment, you don’t think about it because it is happening fast, but you think, I could be the one who fires that first shot that could basically start a war," said Bartlett. "It was stressful when you thought about it.”

He said he would have no hesitation doing his job if it was necessary. “I am glad it didn’t come to that.”

Bartlett said he was glad to see the escalation die down, and hopes he can travel to North Korea one day.

“Yeah, me and some guys I was there with, if it ever happens, we plan to go together and walk across the DMZ and in North Korea. That will be a pretty great experience,” said Bartlett. “To think that I was a maybe a part of this long, drawn-out conflict coming to an end is pretty cool.

“In Afghanistan, you come home and you feel like you didn’t really do much. You come home from Korea and, at least right now, I feel like I had an impact, and that’s the difference — you just feel better about it,” said Bartlett.

Bartlett said he is unsure about how he feels about trusting North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, but said he feels it is worth trying to find a peaceful solution to the situation. He said he does not see the North Korean people as enemies, because they were brainwashed by their leader's propaganda. He said he feels bad for the people there, because they are starving and have few resources, and he hopes a peaceful solution between the two countries eventually can happen.

“People there have been split for 80-some years, so it will be interesting to see what would happen if things change,” he said.

The Maryland native came to Penn State for college and fell in love with the area. After enlisting in the U.S. Army as an officer in 2008, he later came back to Penn State in 2015 for his MBA and bought a house in Bellefonte. After getting his master's degree in 2017, he was off to Korea.

“After my undergrad, I just realized that Bellefonte was a beautiful place, so I spent two years here getting my master's and then I bought a house here because I love it,” said Bartlett. “My back porch looks over a mountain. I want to retire here. It is peaceful and the people are so nice. I haven’t been to any other place like it.”

He said he is glad to be home for 10 days before he heads off Kansas. He has accepted a promotion to major and said he has a yearlong training program as his next step. He is glad to take the time to meet with friends and enjoy Bellefonte, but that is not to say he won’t miss some Korean things.

“Oh, man, the Korean barbecue is to die for — so good — and the Korean fried chicken, I’m going to miss that, big time,” said Bartlett. But the culture was a little strange to him when he first got there.

“You’re driving around and you look out the window and you see everyone in matching outfits because couples there dress that same, so that is very different,” said Bartlett. He said he was amazed at the way the elderly are respected in Korea, and that even teenagers out in public would offer respect to older Koreans without batting an eye.

Bartlett said he enjoyed exploring Seoul, and that it is an international city where he met people from all over the globe. He especially enjoyed going into cafes in the city that were filled with meercats.

“Yeah, they would just be loose in the café and crawl all over you — so much fun,” said Bartlett. Bartlett always wanted to join the Army and loves the brotherhood he feels with other soldiers, the travel opportunities and the chance to do something important.

“It is great. The Army is like a family. We are all in it together working to accomplish something. I love it,” said Bartlett.


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