Critical Time in Korea: Eighth Army Adapts to Preserve Peace, Stability
Eighth U.S. Army serves on freedom’s frontier in the Republic of Korea. Together with our South Korean counterparts, this historic organization maintains the Republic of Korea-U.S. alliance and deters North Korean aggression. Our soldiers and our allies have proudly preserved peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula since the signing of the Korean Armistice Agreement in 1953. Since July 1950, Eighth Army has served continuously on the peninsula for over 67 years in unwavering commitment to these goals.
This year marks a critical period for our soldiers, families and civilians in Korea. Eighth Army is undergoing massive change as we transform our units, installations and force posture. Eighth Army leads the way as the U.S. Army presence in Korea migrates from areas north of Seoul into two primary installations: one in Pyeongtaek and the other in the vicinity of Daegu. By the end of this transformation in 2020, Camp Humphreys in Pyeongtaek will be the largest contiguous overseas installation in the U.S. Army and contain the largest overseas DoD population.
U.S. Army Garrison Daegu, with major sites including Camps Walker, Henry, George and Carroll, has long been a destination assignment. Upgraded schools and family housing units highlight its strategic importance to combined and joint activities on the peninsula. Daegu is an enduring presence as the home of the 19th Expeditionary Sustainment Command.
The key to a successful transition lies in maintaining our readiness to deter North Korean aggression throughout the transformation. We must maintain security and stability for our Republic of Korea (ROK) allies and the American people. To ensure this, Eighth Army will prioritize readiness and alliance teamwork.
Recently, North Korea has demonstrated a clear and present threat to regional and global stability. Their provocative actions, rhetoric, and pursuit of intercontinental ballistic missiles and nuclear capabilities present a growing danger not just to Northeast Asia but to the international community. This threat underscores the importance of a steadfast ROK-U.S. alliance. This year, including a recent missile launch, North Korea has conducted over 12 ballistic missile launches in direct violation of U.N. Security Council resolutions. As the Kim Jong-un regime continues the unabated development of its asymmetric military capabilities, Eighth Army continues to prepare to respond to any provocation.
Through continuous training, exercises and emergency deployment readiness exercises, we have enhanced our ability to execute our combat mission. Civilians and families in country are also prepared for rapid evacuation off the Korean Peninsula thanks to biannual noncombatant evacuation exercises. This constant training ensures we are prepared for any contingency.
Due to the threat, maintaining readiness is Eighth Army’s No. 1 priority. Our ability to conduct combat missions as a joint team in the ROK-U.S. alliance is imperative. We must remain ready to deliver a full range of military capabilities on short notice in case of contingencies.
Everything Eighth Army does focuses on readiness. Whether it is physical training, command post exercises or executing combined live-fires, every task supports this goal. We ensure that every soldier and unit maintains proficiency with weapon systems, lethality on combat platforms, and the ability to operate in a chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear and explosive environment.
Specifically, we train constantly for our unique mission portfolio that includes noncombatant evacuation exercises; the counter-fire task force for the 210th Field Artillery Brigade; the maritime counter-special operations forces for the 2nd Combat Aviation Brigade; ballistic missile defense for the 35th Air Defense Artillery Brigade; reception, staging, onward movement and integration for the 19th Expeditionary Sustainment Command; and counter-weapons of mass destruction training for the 2nd Infantry Division. Each of these missions responds directly to risks posed by North Korea and their real-world significance adds a sense of purpose and mission focus for every soldier assigned to Eighth Army.
Because of the evolving threat, we are constantly seeking new ways to increase readiness. One of the most recent improvements has been the introduction of rotational units to Korea since 2015. After training in the continental U.S. for the Korean mission sets, the U.S. Army rotates brigade- and battalion-sized units into the theater to train with our ROK allies. Participating units have included armored brigade combat teams, multiple launch rocket system battalions, heavy attack reconnaissance squadrons and expeditionary signal companies. These rotations increase readiness in Korea and for our Army. They also provide the rotational units with valuable opportunities to train in a challenging operating environment alongside our professional ROK allies.
Over the past year, rotational units have included the 1st Armored Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division “Devil Brigade” from Fort Riley, Kan., the 2nd Armored Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division “Black Jack Brigade” from Fort Hood, Texas, as the maneuver brigade under the 2nd Infantry Division/ROK-U.S. Combined Division, as well as the 2nd Battalion, 18th Field Artillery Regiment and the 2nd Battalion, 4th Field Artillery Regiment from Fort Sill, Okla., as part of the counterfire task force under the 2nd Infantry Division/ROK-U.S. Combined Division’s 210th Field Artillery Brigade. It also has included the 1st Squadron, 6th Cavalry Regiment Heavy Attack Reconnaissance Squadron from the 1st Infantry Division. These units undertake some of the Army’s most challenging training to ensure they sustain the highest readiness levels throughout their deployment to the Korean Peninsula.
Exercise Warrior Strike
In May, the Devil Brigade conducted Exercise Warrior Strike, a counter-weapons of mass destruction exercise that integrated U.S. and ROK naval, ground and air components. Our soldiers established a WMD elimination task force with the training and expertise to clear, exploit and secure WMD sites. They conducted an air assault from a Korean amphibious carrier, the Dokdo, with CH-47 Chinooks and UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters, then air-assaulted to clear suspected WMD facilities, including an underground site, with their ROK Army partners. This kind of training with our rotational units adds tremendous combat capability to Eighth Army. It also ensures the whole force can operate seamlessly as part of a combined, joint, interorganizational and multinational force in a multidomain battlespace during times of crisis.
Of course, an army cannot fight and win without a strong supply network. To this end, we consistently practice our logistical operations in Korea. In April, the ROK-U.S. Army, Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps came together for Operation Pacific Reach to test our combined logistics over-the-shore, area distribution center and air terminal supply point capabilities. Our ability to execute combined joint logistics ensures we can succeed in combat operations, humanitarian assistance and disaster-relief efforts.
Training we execute throughout the year comes together during two major training exercises: Key Resolve and Ulchi Freedom Guardian. Led by ROK-U.S. Combined Forces Command, these exercises train our combined military forces and the whole of ROK government. These are some of the largest exercises in DoD and involve nearly 40,000 U.S. military participants and 400,000 ROK government and military personnel. These successful exercises prove our responsiveness and demonstrate to the world that we are ready to fight tonight.
In addition to our rigorous training, relationships and team-building are critical in every facet of the ROK-U.S. alliance. Interpersonal relationships are the center of gravity for the alliance, and we encourage every soldier to develop a bond with our ROK partners. The relationships built at every level foster trust between those in the alliance and ensure we can operate seamlessly when called upon.
Eighth Army actively trains combined operations. We integrate ROK and U.S. service members at the headquarters level down to the tactical units to increase cooperation, understanding and interoperability. Some of the best examples of this are the new command structures established in the past two years, including the 2nd Infantry Division/ROK-U.S. Combined Division and the Combined Ground Component Command (CGCC).
The combined division and CGCC are examples of how Eighth Army enhances the alliance. The 2nd Infantry Division/ROK-U.S. Combined Division provides the template for combined organizational structures as the U.S. Army’s only combined division. Activated in 2015, ROK and U.S. officers work side by side as members of the division staff. As a result, the 2nd Infantry Division has a stronger relationship with its respective ROK units. The CGCC is a centralized four-star command for ground forces on the peninsula that includes Eighth Army staff members and the Eighth Army commander as the deputy commander for CGCC as part of our ongoing transformation.
We have seen that the alliance’s most effective response to the threat presented by North Korea is for our militaries to remain combined, highly capable and ready. Our continued commitment to the alliance sends a deterrent message to North Korea and reassures our allies globally of our committed presence.
A Great Transformation
At a time when Eighth Army maintains unparalleled readiness and enhances integration with our Korean allies, we are simultaneously engaged in transformation and relocation. This is the greatest transformation in Eighth Army’s history as soldiers, Army civilians, contractors and families from 120 installations throughout Korea converge at U.S. Army Garrison Humphreys in Pyeongtaek. This project has been more than a decade in the making.
The transformation and relocation plans began in 2004 with an agreement between the ROK and U.S. governments. After a decade of planning and construction, we are excited to be in the movement phase. Eighth Army headquarters completed its move this summer with U.S. Forces Korea and the 2nd Infantry Division to follow in 2018.
The transformation is an enormous undertaking and will cost approximately $10.7 billion, with 92 percent of the costs paid by the ROK government. We have tripled the size of the original Camp Humphreys and have built state-of-the-art facilities and infrastructure with first-class support and quality of life.
Not only will the transformation enhance our readiness with ranges and a simulation center, it will also provide the best quality of life for our soldiers, civilians and families. It is home to a 110,000-square-foot fitness center, one of the largest post exchanges overseas, and a new commissary. Additionally, the new hospital will support over 200,000 annual patient visits and the largest dental clinic in the Army. Our children receive world-class grades K-12 education from the DoD Education Activity and take part in an exciting blend of academic, social, cultural and extracurricular activities. The high school, two middle schools and two elementary schools can support over 3,800 students within a close-knit overseas military community. On-post residents live in an Army community with modern accommodations, while off-post housing offers a wide array of Western-style homes.
U.S. Army Garrison Humphreys will be the Army’s crown jewel of overseas installations. As we integrate all Eighth Army forces onto two main installations, we will improve force protection and enhance our ability to respond to contingencies.
While the threat continues to evolve, Eighth Army stands vigilant with our Korean allies to respond to any North Korean aggression. As we undertake this transformation to improve our readiness and the alliance, we continue to focus on intensive, combined and joint training to strengthen our combined capabilities.