Top Commander in Korea Wants to End One-Year Tours
By Fred W. Baker III
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Mar. 7, 2007 The top U.S. commander in Korea today said he wants to end one-year tours there and replace them with standard three-year tours, enabling more family members to move to the region.
U.S. and Republic of Korea forces have reached a transformation and re-stationing agreement that will move troops away from the northern, more hostile combat zones to two safer “hubs” south of Seoul, Army Gen. Burwell B. Bell, commander of U.S. Forces Korea told members of the House Armed Services Committee.
“It’s time to end our one-year, war-zone rotational tours, which needlessly add to our high worldwide operational tempo, while handicapping our engagement opportunities with our longtime Korean ally,” Bell said. “I’m advocating three-year, normal family-accompanied tours for our small force in Korea. It is absolutely the right thing to do.”
Under the plan, the combined forces will transition command and control of the Korean military to Korean leaders by 2012, Bell said. The Republic of Korea has agreed to fund most of the costs associated with moving the troops, and the move will allow U.S. officials to focus on improving living and working conditions there, Bell said.
Bell said that only two percent, or 30,000, of active-duty servicemembers are stationed in Korea. More than 60 percent are married, he said.
Currently about 5,000 family members are stationed in Korea. Only about 3,000 are authorized, Bell said. Family members are sometimes allowed to move there at their own expense and can use military facilities on a space-available basis.
The change will allow a cultural exchange between the families of the two countries, Bell said. He added that he’d like to see Korea become an assignment “where families engage culturally and in partnership. On the weekends they get to know each other and make life-long friends.”
“The ability to build the alliance one family at a time is all lost because my servicemembers are sitting in the barracks lonely because they are missing their family,” he said.
While he remains cautious of North Korea’s long-term military objectives, Bell said that there is less of a threat now, and the Republic of Korea army is a capable, competent force.
“The Republic of Korea military is extremely competent. They are a modern nation with a modern military, modern battle-command capabilities and very good equipment,” Bell said.
“Our air and naval forces, in conjunction with the Republic of Korea army are much more than a match for the North Korean army,” Bell said.
The transformation will result in a new independent and supporting U.S. joint command. The U.S. will maintain clear command over all American forces, Bell said.
After commanding troops there for the past year, Bell gave high praise for the relationship between U.S. and Korean forces.
“The Republic of Korea-U.S. alliance is enduring and continues to function as a pillar of national security and regional security in that area of the world,” he said.