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US soldier who crossed into North Korea was pending disciplinary action

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South Korean military police members guard the border between South Korea North Korea inside the Korean Demilitarized Zone during a Sept. 13 tour held to honor Korean War veterans in Panmunjeom, South Korea. The joint security area is the only place where North and South connect. U.S. Air Force Korean War veterans are visiting South Korea during a weeklong tour in observance of the Air Force's 60th Anniversary.

A Soldier pending disciplinary action and potential separation from service reportedly crossed the heavily fortified demilitarized zone into North Korea on Thursday and is now in their custody, according to statements made by several U.S. officials and the United Nations Command.

“A U.S. National on a JSA orientation tour crossed, without authorization, the Military Demarcation Line into the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK),” The U.N. Command said in a statement. “We believe he is currently in DPRK custody and are working with our KPA [North Korean army] counterparts to resolve this incident.”

At this time, it is unclear whether the soldier’s intention was to defect to North Korea, but it is evident that he was looking down the barrel of further disciplinary action once back in the United States.

According to Colonel Isaac Taylor, a spokesperson for the U.S. Armed Force in Korea, King “wilfully and without authorization crossed the Military Demarcation Line into the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK).”

Related: What it’s like to visit Korea’s Demilitarized Zone

Two months in a military detention facility

soldier north korea
Members of the American Correctional Association receive a tour of the United States Regional Correctional Facility-Korea, located at Camp Humphreys. (U.S. Army photo)

The following details have not been released by the Pentagon, pending notifications of next of kin, but multiple sources within the U.S. and South Korean militaries have confirmed them.

The soldier has been identified as 23-year-old Private 2nd Class Travis King, who had recently been released from custody and was being sent back to the United States for further disciplinary action and a potential dismissal from service.

King reportedly completed two months in a detention facility following an as-yet undisclosed off-base interaction with local residents that some news outlets have described as assault. The name of the facility he was held in has not been confirmed, but it seems likely that it may have been the United States Regional Correctional Facility-Korea, located at Camp Humphreys near the Anjeong-ri and Pyeongtaek metropolitan areas of South Korea. It is also possible that he may have been held in a South Korean facility instead.

Related: Unit 684 – The South Korean suicide squad with the tragic history

Soldier reportedly laughed as he crossed into North Korea

Guards manning the DMZ between North and South Korea (U.S. Army photo)

Once released from the detention facility, King remained under military observation for another week during out-processing, before being sent back to Fort Bliss, Texas for further disciplinary action.

However, after passing through airport security, King reportedly managed to leave Incheon International Airport and join a tour group heading to the demilitarized zone separating South from North Korea. Because King was no longer in custody, he was not under armed escort.

According to reports, King was dressed in civilian attire as he approached the border, acting as though he was a part of the tour group.

“This man gives out a loud ‘ha ha ha,’ and just runs in between some buildings,” an unnamed eyewitness said of the border crossing. “I thought it was a bad joke at first, but when he didn’t come back, I realized it wasn’t a joke, and then everybody reacted and things got crazy.”

The last high-profile American to spend time in North Korean custody was Otto Warmbier, a college student and tourist who was arrested during a guided tour of North Korea in 2016 for allegedly stealing a poster. Warmbier was released from custody and returned to the United States in a vegetative state in June of 2017, only to die shortly after.

Feature image courtesy of the U.S. Air Force

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Alex Hollings

Alex Hollings is a writer, dad, and Marine veteran.

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