Korea Commander Tackles Readiness Challenges
By Linda D. Kozaryn
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, March 21, 2000 As the new commander of U.N. Command, Republic of Korea/U.S. Combined Forces Command and U.S. Forces Korea, Army Gen. Thomas A. Schwartz has one overriding mission -- be ready to stop an attack from the North.
In signing the Mutual Defense Treaty in 1954, the United States agreed to help the Republic of Korea defend itself against external aggression. To support this commitment, about 38,000 U.S. service members, including the Army's 2nd Infantry Division and several Air Force tactical squadrons are stationed in Korea. Coordination between these U.S. units and the South Korean military falls to the Combined Forces Command.
Schwartz, who assumed command in December 1999, must constantly monitor the threat posed by North Korea and ensure peak military readiness among the American forces stationed on the Korean Peninsula. He recently told Congress U.S. Forces Korea needs more money for training, command and control, headquarters support, and operations and maintenance.
A strong supporter of quality-of-life initiatives at his previous commands, Schwartz also told Congress he needs more money for infrastructure and housing. Speaking to reporters in Seoul two days after appearing on Capitol Hill, the general said he asked Congress for "additional dollars to make an important difference here in this peninsula in terms of the barracks that our soldiers live in."
About 35,000 American service members and 3,000 DoD civilians help ROK forces maintain stability on the peninsula. About 91 percent of the service members assigned to Korea serve one-year unaccompanied tours. The turnover rate is about 95 percent each year. Their presence serves as a deterrent to contain the threat from the North.
North Korea remains a major threat to regional stability and is the country most likely to involve U.S. forces in a large-scale war, Schwartz told members of the House Armed Services Committee in mid-March. Military improvements over the past year clearly illustrate North Korea's emphasis on being prepared for war "no matter what the cost," he said.
About 20 million South Koreans, nearly half the country's population, live in and around Seoul, within artillery range of North Korean forces poised along the 155-mile-long Demilitarized Zone, or "DMZ." U.S. officials say North Korea can field more than 12,000 self-propelled and towed artillery weapons.
These North Korean forces are "getting better, day to day, year to year," Schwartz told reporters during a recent interview in Seoul. "They've been improving themselves. They've been modernizing and they've been exercising."
U.S. military officials have observed some forward "muscle movements" closer to the DMZ, Schwartz said. "We're not alarmed by what we see because we have incredible intelligence capability and we keep a close eye on the North Korean threat. We monitor them closely. That's our job."
Despite drought, famine and steep economic decline, Schwartz said, North Korea maintains a "military first" policy and spends 30 percent of its gross national product to that end. North Korean officials ensure the military has what it needs to do what Kim Chong-il's regime asks, the general said.
U.S. military readiness in South Korea, Schwartz said, is based on training, infrastructure and quality of life. "Those three components equal a trained and ready military," the commander said. "When I came here I looked at training and that piece of it is very good. We train hard. We're ready to fight tonight and win. No doubt about it."
The other two components, infrastructure and quality of life, need work, however, the general noted. "There's a lot of Quonset huts here that our soldiers live in," Schwartz said. "We're making a very aggressive effort to take those down and to build the kind of barracks that we want to have for our military on the peninsula.
"Our military and civilians wake each day to face one of the most threatening situations in the world today," Schwartz said in his prepared statement to Congress. "These men and women deserve reasonable and appropriate quality of life benefits."
Nearly 14 percent of the more than 9,600 buildings within U.S. Forces Korea are 40 to 80 years old, Schwartz said. Service members live and work in more than 3,000 Korean War-era Quonset huts and Vietnam-era buildings. Barracks and dining facilities suffer from rapid deterioration and excessive wear and tear due to overcrowding. Power and water outages are frequent due to decaying infrastructure.
"We cannot continue to ask our people to live and work like this," Schwartz told Congress.
The command needs an about $469 million per year in military construction from fiscal 2001 to fiscal 2008 to meet minimum requirements, Schwartz reported. Since this amount is not possible under current budget restraints, he recommended deferring some projects and stretching the program out to 2020.
"This will reduce the annual cost to $366 million, of which $132 million will be provided by the Republic of Korea and the remaining $234 by military construction," Schwartz said.