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Three-Year Korea Tours Good for Servicemembers, Alliance, Commander Says

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, March 23, 2009 – Being assigned to Korea will soon be the same as being assigned to Japan or Europe, under a new policy that came into force in December, the commander of U.S. forces on the peninsula said.

“Tour normalization in Korea was long overdue,” said Army Gen. Walter Sharp, the commander of U.S. Forces Korea.

In December, the Defense Department changed the assignment policy in Korea. In the past, almost all assignments to South Korea were unaccompanied and for one year. A few assignments were accompanied and for two-year tours.

The policy change increased accompanied tour lengths from two to three years. In the years to come, more and more servicemembers will be accompanied. The change also allows accompanied two-year tours to Uijongbu and Dongducheon, where they previously were not allowed.

Most unaccompanied tours will continue to be for one year. The change authorizes servicemembers to come to Korea for three-year accompanied tours at Pyeongtaek, Osan, Daegu, Chinhae and Seoul, Sharp said.

There have been a limited number of command-sponsored tours in the Republic of Korea for years.

“We have about 2,100 command-sponsored families in Korea right now,” the general said. “Our goal is about 4,300 by this time next year.”

The mid-range goal is to have between 5,500 and 6,000 command-sponsored families in Korea by 2015. This increase depends on the progress of building Camp Humphreys in Pyeongtaek. Sharp said that roughly half of the 28,500 servicemembers deployed to Korea are married, and he hopes that in the future about 14,000 servicemembers will bring their families to the country.

There is a demand for this. Many soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines bring their families over without command sponsorship. They pay the money out of their own pockets rather than be separated, U.S. Forces Korea said.

Infrastructure is the limiting factor right now, Sharp pointed out.

“I’m not going to bring more families to Korea than I can handle in terms of housing, health clinics, community centers and schools,” he said. Those transferring to the 2nd Division area will receive housing allowances and use all the health and retail facilities, but the command will not build schools since the 2nd Division will move to Camp Humphreys. Sharps said families with no children or pre-school children will do well in those areas.

The command is already offering those serving two-year accompanied tours the opportunity to serve an additional year. “My goal is to allow as many as want to extend the opportunity to do so,” Sharp said.

And Korea is a great place to serve, the general said. The country is a far cry from the war-torn Third World nation of 1953. The Republic of Korea has a trillion-dollar economy, ranked 13th in the world. It is a representative democracy, with an excellent transportation system and accommodations. There is low crime in the country and a state-of-the-art health system.

The Department of Defense schools in Korea annually score among the highest in the system.

Three-year accompanied tours make sense for individual servicemembers. Since many have to deploy to Iraq and Afghanistan, they do not need another unaccompanied assignment, Sharp said. Three-year family accompanied tours in Korea duplicate what servicemembers have had in Europe and Japan for decades. Putting the same in place in Korea demonstrates “long-term U.S. commitment to the Republic of Korea and other nations in Northeast Asia,” Sharp said.

From a military perspective, Korea offers full-spectrum training. From humanitarian missions to high-intensity operations, servicemembers participate in realistic joint and combined exercises, the general said.

“We’re very excited about creating the future of Korea, and the future of the U.S. military in Korea,” Sharp said.

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