Top Commander in Korea Urges Three-Year, Accompanied Tours
By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, March 11, 2008 The top U.S. general in Korea told Congress today he supports three-year, family-accompanied tours in Korea in light of planned operational and quality-of-life changes under way there.
Army Gen. Burwell B. Bell, commander of U.S. Forces Korea, told the Senate Armed Services Committee the current basing policy needs to change to fall in line with those in Europe and Japan and to reflect the Republic of Korea’s vast transformation.
“In 55 years, the Republic of Korea has transformed from a war-ravaged country to one of the most modern, progressive and democratic countries in the world,” he said, adding that is has become an economic powerhouse.
“Unfortunately, in a modern and vibrant Republic of Korea, the U.S. still rotates servicemembers on one-year, unaccompanied assignments as though this remained an active combat zone,” he said. “It is not.”
Bell cited operational changes taking place on the peninsula that make now the appropriate time for “normalized” tours there. Plans are moving forward to move 2nd Infantry Division and U.S. joint-force elements from their current location at Yongsan Garrison to south of Seoul. In addition to returning valuable land in the capital city to the Koreans, the move will provide significant quality-of-life improvements for troops there, Bell said.
Another major development in South Korea is the plan to transfer wartime operational control of the Republic of Korea military to South Korea by 2012, he said. The U.S.-led Combined Forces Command transferred peacetime control of those forces to the Republic of Korea Joint Chiefs of Staff in 1994.
Bell pointed to the situation in Europe, when during the Cold War and in the face of the Soviet and Warsaw Pact war machine, the military encouraged troops to bring their families with them for the length of their tours. “This created a stable military and sent a strong message of U.S. commitment and reliability to our European allies,” he said.
The short, unaccompanied tours in place for Korea send the opposite message there, he said: “that we either expect imminent conflict or that we are not fully committed and can withdraw our forces on a moment’s notice.”
South Korea supports the tour extension, which Bell said could be implemented with an infrastructure-expansion plan over 10 to 15 years. Costs would be subjected to burden-sharing negotiations between the two countries, he said.
In addition to sending a clear message of U.S. commitment, Bell said extended tour lengths would offer other benefits: improved continuity, stability, readiness and the retention of regional, institutional and cultural knowledge. It would reduce permanent-change-of-station disruptions and costs, and cut the number of family separations beyond those already forced by wartime rotations in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Bell told the senators the Defense Department is considering the formal proposal he submitted and said he’s hopeful the department will endorse the plan. “Endorsement of this proposal will provide our servicemembers a better quality of life, strengthen the U.S.-ROK alliance, and send a powerful message to the nations of the area of America’s long-term commitment to stability and security in Northeast Asia,” he said.