PUTNAM - A local man and his son understand the tension between the United States and North Korea better than most.
Last week the Communist country test fired a rocket that U.S. Officials worry may be paving the way for a nuclear missile with the capability of reaching the western United States.
Tom Bain of Putnam, who is assigned to USAG Humphreys, South Korea, and his son Tommy had a chance to visit the Joint Security Area that separates North Korea from South Korea a few days before the rocket test.
The area, also known as the demilitarized zone, was created as a buffer between the two nations following the Korean Conflict.
"Free democratic people are not welcome to freely enter the strict dictatorship that is North Korea, except for at one place located in the Joint Security Area," Bain said. "The Joint Security Area is a small garrison located on the North and South Korean border. This is the location of the signing of the armistice which stands to this day, keeping the two countries from all out war.
"Although there is an armistice treaty in place, tensions run high in this close contact with bitter rivals," he added. "Visitors are not allowed to point at, speak to or otherwise provoke the North Korean guards, but we can take pictures of them. They watched silently from atop the stairs of their visitor's center, glaring at us through binoculars over and over again."
The Joint Security Area has a few buildings that allow the free passage across the border, at least within their walls. These conference rooms are used for negotiations between North Korea and the rest of the world.
"For our visit, the door to the North Korean exit was blocked by a South Korean guard," Bain said. "He was there for our protection, as unwanted visitors to North Korea can expect a rather rude welcome as the guards collect them up."
Bain said the tension with North Korea is real - and understandable.
"We finished up our tour and headed back home, thankful that the much hyped rocket launch was not conducted while we were there," Bain said. "Tensions are already high in the confines of the Joint Security Area, and I didn't want to see an elevated security level up close and personal. We had an eye-opening time as we looked across the border at another of the free world's trouble makers, and realized how much freedom we enjoy and take for granted in our great country."