8 August 2019
For Royal New Zealand Navy (RNZN) Lieutenant Blair Marett working at the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) between the two Koreas is a dream come true.
While studying political science at the University of Canterbury, Lieutenant Marett learnt about the mine-strewn area separating South and North Korea and wanted to visit it some day.
His wish came true in May, when he was posted to the DMZ, as the Assistant Corridor Control Officer at Transport Corridor West under the United Nations Command Secretariat.
“Every day I cycle to work at the DMZ, which is about 5 kilometres from where I live at Camp Bonifas,” he said. “It’s a place I have long wanted to visit and now I get to work here, which is great.”
Lieutenant Marett is part of a team, comprising a Royal Danish Army officer, a United States Army Sergeant and a South Korean civilian translator, that monitors all crossings between the two Koreas, to ensure they comply with the Armistice Agreement.
He also helps review and approve requests to cross the Military Demarcation Line at Transport Corridor West, to ensure that United Nations sanctions are not breached.
One of the perks of his job is having a ringside seat to history.
“Due to some last-minute requirements, I was called up to work on 30 June and got to see the historic meeting between US President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un at the DMZ,” he said.
Created in 1953 during armistice negotiations, the 260-kilometre DMZ is dotted with landmines, fences, guard posts and other military equipment on both sides of the border. Only a small group of patrolling soldiers are allowed to walk along the world’s most heavily fortified border.
The DMZ was actually tranquil, belying the fact that, historically, it had been a heavily contested area, Lieutenant Marett said.
“The biggest challenge of being posted here is the remote location. The nearest Korean town is 45 minutes away by bus, which has a very random schedule.
“So it turns basic things like grocery shopping or going to the post office into a three-hour task. You have to plan ahead, because there is no ducking out to get something you forgot to buy.”
Lieutenant Marett grew up in the south-west Christchurch suburb of Hornby and joined the RNZN in 2013, after completing an honours degree focussed on political science and international relations at the University of Canterbury’s National Centre for Research on Europe.
“I wanted a job with a lot of variety and where I could travel,” he said. “After a bit of research, I thought the Navy was a great option so I signed up.”
Among his highlights so far are a two-year exchange with the Royal Australian Navy from 2015 to 2017 and deployments to the Southwest Pacific and the Southern Ocean.