Changed South Korea Duty Tours Aid Readiness
By Army Sgt. 1st Class Michael J. Carden
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Apr. 12, 2011 Normalizing U.S. military duty tours in South Korea will increase combat readiness and greatly reduce stress for service members and their families, the top U.S. military commander in the region told the Senate Armed Services Committee here today.
“A force multiplier, tour normalization keeps trained and ready military personnel in place for longer periods of time,” said Army Gen. Walter “Skip” Sharp, commander of United Nations Command, Combined Forces Command and U.S. Forces Korea. “It improves readiness, combat capability, lowers turbulence in units and reduces the stress placed on our troops, units and families.”
Tour normalization in South Korea is an initiative the Defense Department and Sharp have been working on since December 2008. The initiative increases troop tour lengths in South Korea to three years and allows their families to accompany them.
The initiative is part of the Strategic Alliance 2015 agreement that hands over wartime operational control on the Korean Peninsula to the South Korea military in December 2015. The agreement also calls for U.S. forces to reposition to two enduring hubs under the Yongsan Relocation Plan and Land Partnership Plan.
Repositioning U.S. forces “realizes stationing efficiencies and signals a continued American commitment to defense of Korea and the engagement,” Sharp said. “Restationing also enhances force protection and survivability.”
Currently, 4,400 military families are in South Korea on command-sponsored tours. About 12,000 families will be there once tour normalization is fully implemented by the end of 2015.
“I think everyone is aware of the importance of tour normalization, with the increase of the readiness that it brings to our units that are over there; with the fact that it does show our commitment, which is a great deterrent value to North Korea,” the general said.
Sharp said the tour normalization plan he will present this week to Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates will be “an affordable plan to get to full tour normalization.” However, he acknowledged, the duty tour initiative’s initial costs for moving an additional 10,000 families and compensating troops’ housing needs will not be cheap.
“We are looking at many different options in order to be able to reduce the costs, and looking at many different options as far as how long it will take,” Sharp said.