Nick Mararac was born July 7, 1983, in Washington D.C and he is a Korean Defense Veteran. He was accepted into the US Naval Academy and also went to the Defense Language Institute in California to learn Korean. Commissioned in 2007, he served as a Lieutenant in the Navy and was trained as a Service Warfare Officer. In 2014, he medically retired from the Navy. While in Korea, Nick Mararac served as a United Nations Liaison Officer where he ensured that the restrictions of the armistice were abided by.
The Forgotten Armistice and the Neutral Nations Supervisory Commission
Nick Mararac describes the Neutral Nations Supervisory Commission (NNSC), and its role in the armistice/DMZ area. It was created during the armistice with North Korea. The NNSC is used during talks between North and South Korea ever since 1953.
Nick Mararac discusses how he became a commissioned officer after graduating from college. He also discusses his basic training starting at the Naval Academy. During his explanation, pride can be heard in the tone of his voice.
Impmressions of Korea and Living Conditions
Nick Mararac recalls seeing Korea for the first time prior to serving there. He found the language intimidating and had difficulty with it. After moving to Korea he remembers being able to get around quite easily. He remembers living on the 26th floor on a high rise in a comfortable apartment.
Mararac: My name is Nicholas Mararac, I was born in Washington D.C. My birthday is July 7, 1983. My parents, um and myself, actually, we’re ethnically Pilipino. They migrated to the- to the states in the seventies and I grew up outside D.C as well.
Interviewer: Great, thank you. And how about the schools that you um up to the moment when you joined the military. What kind of educational background do you have?
Mararac: I went to Catholic school from kindergarten to twelfth grade and… um after graduation from high school I was accepted to the United States Naval academy and that’s how I got my commission into the US navy as a naval officer. I served as a surface warfare officer.
Interviewer: Alright great. So yeah we’re starting to talk about your military background now. um let’s now talk about you being based in Korea? So when , actually maybe even, not even just about Korea, so when were you enlisted umm and then when did you go to Korea?
1:08 – 2:31
Mararac: I was commissioned in 2007 upon graduation from the Naval Academy. Uh it’s different from being enlisted if you enlist in the military, then you go through boot camp or whatever indoctrination the, the branch of service you are joining has. For officers it’s necessary for you to have at least a-a bachelors and have graduated from college. So I graduated in 2007, that’s how I became a commissioned officer.
Interviewer: Mkay. What kind of basic military training did you have and like where, what kinds?
Mararac: My military training started at the- the Naval Academy. We have our own indoctrination um prior to starting the academic year and then it’s really just constant military training it’s integrated into our-our college studies so we actually take classes that are um applicable to our military service in the future. So for instance, for me, I was a surface warfare officer, which means that I served primarily on ships or um, providing support to um the fleet in the US navy. Um so I took navigation courses in college, and other classes that were applicable to that job
2:31 – 4:53
Interviewer: And are you still a part of the Navy?
Mararac: I am not. I was retired, medically retired uh in April of 2014.
Interviewer: Okay, so then your rank uh right before retirement was what?
Mararac: I was a lieutenant or O3 in the Navy.
Interviewer: Alright thank you. Now let’s talk about Korea. So again when and where uh so when did you go to Korea and where was it that you went to?
Mararac: In 2011 I first went to the defense language institute to learn Korean.
Interviewer: Which is in?
Mararac: It’s in Monteray, California so about 95 or 105 miles south of San Francisco and uh the school focused not just on language but also the culture. And then I went to Seoul and served at the United Nation’s command and we were based out of Yongsan.
Interviewer: Okay and when was it that you arrived in Korea?
Mararac: I arried in the fall of 2011.
Interviewer: And what were your duties?
Mararac: I worked for the United Nation’s command and military arm assist commission as the lesion officer for the Neutral Nation Supervisory Commission. Uh the Neutral Nation Supervisory Commission, or the NNSC, is composed of three countries today; Switzerland, Sweden, and Poland. However, in 1953, when the, when the arm assist agreement was signed and the NNSC was established, it originally had for South Korea, Switzerland, Sweden, and North Korea had Poland and Czechoslovakia. Uh in 93 when Czechoslovakia split uh North Korea didn’t recognize them as the same country established in the Arm Assist Agreement so they, they kicked them out essentially and eventually they kicked out Poland too. So today still, the NNSC still exist in South Korea and so you have a Swiss and Swedish camp in the DMZ and the joint security area.
Interviewer: I see
Mararac: Um and so my duties as a liason officer for them was making sure that they had everything they needed to uh fulfill their uh duties as assigned in the Arm Assist Agreement which is really just making sure that all the restrictions that are in place in the agreement are being abided by and they also provide a um a neutral perspective which also provides legitimacy for what the US does and what other countries are doing in Korea.
Interviewer: I see. Thank you for sharing. Uh now let’s talk about your experience in Korea. You said you got some Korean language and culture uh education from the defense language institute so would you say you have already known, you learned a lot about the Korean culture or Korea itself? How much knowledge do you feel you had before you were dispatched to Korea?
Mararac: Before I went to Korea, um I wasn’t able to actually complete the language training required because the, the job that I had to uh go to needed me sooner than later. Um so my, my cultural knowledge was pretty much limited to what I learned before uh I was an international affairs major in college so it was, the Korean War was discussed and at the Defense Language Institute we learned about things you would learn in any sort of language class about food and typical cultural stuff but I didn’t actually learn as much as I know now until I was at SCSU at the contemporary in the Korean contemporary cultures class.
Interviewer: Mhm yeah! Then how about knowledge of the Korean War and the Korean War Veterans would you say also very little?
Mararac: I would say it was limited to what I learned in college for the most part which I did have a genuine interest because my focus was on East and Southeast Asian politics. Uh but other than that, it wasn’t as much as I did when I learned at SCSU.
Interviewer: Mhm, okay. Uh now tell me what it was like when you arrived in Korea like your first impression of Korea and how was your living condition?
Mararac: So my first time in Korea was actually before I moved there. I was at one point stationed in Japan and decided to take a week trip to Seoul because I had never been, and I found the language really intimidating because you would see, for instance, Korean written down in letters, not in actual hangul, and I found it very difficult to try to pronounce or say words or names of places. But when I moved there and had some basic understanding of the language and I could at least read, it wasn’t very difficult for me to get around on my own as far as meeting and I guess networking with Koreans, it was fun, I enjoyed it. I enjoyed learning as much as I could while I was there.
Interviewer: And how was your living condition there and um how much were you paid?
Mararac: I lived on the 27th floor of a high-rise in sum gachi which is an adjacent neighborhood to Yongsan kind of near Itaewon about a, I guess, a half mile walk. So I had, I had a pretty, I had a nice apartment it was a good place. As far as being paid, I was paid well. I was living very comfortably.
Interviewer: Uh let’s see. How was your relationship with Korean soldiers?
Mararac: I actually worked very closely with a Korean. She was a Korean Captain she got promoted to Major. She was an Intel officer for the uh Rock Army and we had a very good relationship, a very good working relationship and what I actually enjoyed the most out of her and I didn’t really learn about this, that this was a thing until like I took that class uh about the, the like hiking trips and parties that you have with your work, with your co-workers, I thought that was a lot of fun because it was a really good bonding experience not just with the other with the Korean army folks, but also the other nations that were involved in what we were doing there because we all came together because we all went hiking and there was a lot of drinking afterwards.
Interviewer: Okay. So it sounds like you guys did have a lot of time to socialize outside of just the base.
Mararac: Yes. That seemed to be very important.
Interviewer: What would you say were the most difficult or dangerous memories during your duty? Have you been possible wounded?
Mararac: I was never wounded while working in Korea and I never actually felt in danger. So because of the office that I worked for there, I was constantly in the DMZ, specifically at the JSA, the Joint Security Area, and I was also able to walk around on my own which is kind of funny. I, if you work there you have to wear a specific arm band that identifies what you do and if your armed or not armed. So soldiers that actually work in the DMZ will wear an arm band that’s black I think and it identifies them as being some sort of security force there. When I would work on the DMZ, I had to wear my yellow arm band which meant that I was not armed but still working in some sort of physical capacity because we did a lot of tours through the DMZ because education, educating people on what’s going on there, what we’re doing there, is important. But yeah, I would be able to walk along the DMZ by myself and I would have North Korean soldiers staring at me and then, I mean, if they really wanted to cause an international incident and kidnap me, I guess I’m like right there. But in all honesty, no I was never afraid.
Interviewer: So that would be, maybe one instance where you felt slightly in danger but since it’s not, that’s your point? There was really no dangers…
Mararac: It was a reality of my work, of my work day.
Interviewer: Okay. Great.
Mararac: Uhh what were other things? We also stood watch, I was there also when the passing of power to Kim Un and also the Rocket Launches that he did.
Interviewer: Then what would be one of you happiest or most rewarding memories from your duty?
Mararac: Usually it was when I would finish facilitating a meeting between high-ranking offices of the Swiss, the Sweeds, The Americans, and the Koreans and we came to some sort of agreement on something in particular and we moved in it and came to a disagreement and moved in a specific direction because it meant that I was involved in getting stuff done.
Interviewer: Great, great. So all this work, great work that you did, what was the impact of your service in Korea upon your life?
Mararac: For me personally, the impact was experiencing a different culture and learning about this new culture, learning their language, trying to understand how they think or why they think the way they do. As far as my military service or what I provided to Korea, I was really just another link in the chain. There is someone that replaced me afterwards that I left and is continuing the same duties that I was responsible for. So I like knowing that I was a part of that big picture.
Interviewer: Since you’ve been back in the states, have you been back to Korea?
Mararac: I haven’t had a chance to return to Korea, but I am continuing to study Korean at San Diego state in hopes that maybe if the opportunity in the future arrives, then I may move back to Korea