From the moment Sgt. George Dalton Libby arrived on the Korean Peninsula with the rest of the 24th Infantry Division on June 30, 1950, the odds were stacked against them. But Libby’s efforts through extreme adversity would earn him the nation’s highest military honor.
The Taro Division was the first American force to reach the Republic of Korea in response to the invasion by the North Korean People’s Army five days earlier. The 24th ID was charged with slowing the advance of the North Korean assault until more U.S. forces could arrive. But that was no easy task.
The division was grossly understrength in the aftermath of post-World War II cutbacks. Its speedy arrival and limited training time in Korea meant the 24th would be, in effect, a strategic bump in the road, meant to hinder the enemy’s advance while 140,000 United Nations troops formed what eventually became the Pusan Perimeter to the south. This translated to setback after setback in the early days of fighting.
Beginning July 14, the 24th ID began a valiant stand against three attacking North Korean divisions during the Battle of Taejon. The North Koreans successfully pushed the Americans back from the Kum River east of the city before beginning an intense urban assault.
On July 20, the remaining elements of the division were attempting to withdraw from the city that once housed its headquarters. Libby was among them as part of C Company, 3rd Engineer Combat Battalion. According to his Medal of Honor citation, he was aboard a truck bound for the town of Taegu when it encountered a North Korean roadblock. Enemy forces ambushed the truck, disabling it. The subsequent barrage of bullets killed or wounded all Soldiers aboard except for Libby, who exited the vehicle and scrambled to a nearby ditch to take cover. As bullets whizzed around him, Libby returned fire, allowing wounded Soldiers to leave the truck and take cover. Twice during the firefight, he exposed himself to enemy fire by running across the road to administer aid to wounded Soldiers and pull them to safety.
Soon after, Libby heard an M-5 Half-track approaching. He flagged down the driver and began helping the wounded aboard. As the vehicle drove off, the enemy directed its fire at the driver. That’s when Libby made the decision that thrust him into history. Realizing that no one aboard would be able to operate the vehicle if the driver was killed, Libby used his own body to shield him. Libby received several bullet wounds in his arm and torso as the massive tractor rumbled away from the scene, his citation states. The vehicle made frequent stops with Libby firing his M2 carbine at enemy forces they encountered as he helped more wounded Soldiers aboard.
Eventually, the tractor came upon another roadblock and was peppered with bullets. Libby, who had ignored requests to receive first aid, once again held himself in front of the driver to shield him. Libby was struck by bullets repeatedly but refused to withdraw as the driver careened through the roadblock and headed toward safety. Libby held his position until he lost consciousness and died. He was 30 years old. His citation states, “Sgt. Libby’s sustained, heroic actions enabled his comrades to reach friendly lines. His dauntless courage and gallant self-sacrifice reflect the highest credit upon himself and uphold the esteemed traditions of the U.S. Army.”
Libby’s body was returned to the United States. He is buried at Arlington National Cemetery. He was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor on Aug. 2, 1951.
Libby was born Dec. 4, 1919, in Bridgton, Maine. He served during World War II before his time in Korea. Since his death several buildings and monuments have been named in his honor. Perhaps the most notable is the George D. Libby Bridge, which spans the length of the Imjin River and links North and South Korea.
Like all Soldiers arriving to Korea, NCOs of the 2nd Combat Aviation Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division, quickly learn the importance of being ready to defend South Korea at a moment’s notice in case of an attack from the north.
“It’s pretty much been the focus of every brief that we’ve gotten from anybody since we’ve been on the peninsula,” said 1st Sgt. Joel Green, the first sergeant of D Troop, 4th Squadron, 6th Cavalry Regiment, 2nd Combat Aviation Brigade. “‘Fight Tonight.’ Be ready to go right now.”
As part of the preparation to be ready to “Fight Tonight” — the motto of the 2nd Infantry Division in Korea — the brigade is beginning to use rotational units. Rotational units are entire units rotating into Korea for about nine months, while most of the Soldiers serving in Korea come over individually for longer stints.
The 4th Attack Reconnaissance Squadron, 6th Cavalry Regiment, from Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash., was the first rotational unit to take a spot at Camp Humphreys, South Korea. The squadron deployed to Camp Humphreys in late September. Green said the rotation has worked well.
“I think there are a lot of benefits to it,” Green said. “The logistical problem would be the worst part about it, moving a large group as opposed to individuals. But when you have a ready unit, a whole unit, coming over ready to go, you don’t have to worry about integrating one or two people, or losing a key member of the team. We’re bringing the whole team with us. I think it’s a plus.”
The unit deployed with 30 OH-58D Kiowa Warrior helicopters, which will be left behind at the end of their deployment for the next rotational unit. Command Sgt. Maj. Stanley Williams, command sergeant major of the 4-6 Cavalry, agreed that deploying as a rotational unit has strong benefits for the mission of defending South Korea.
“There are an absolute ton of positives related to deploying a rotational force versus the turnover rate of a unit,” Williams said. “There are a few negatives, but they’re personal negatives, like we don’t get some of the benefits that the permanent party gets here. We don’t get [cost of living allowances], we don’t get [privately owned vehicles]. But on the positive side, the amount of training we’ve been able to do is heads-and-shoulders above what we would normally do in the States. We’re a stronger team than we’ve ever been. … And over here, the mission is real. There is no fake enemy across that DMZ. They’re real.”
The training for the 2nd CAB in Korea is constant because the mission is constant and important, said Sgt. Maj. Christopher Hawkins, the brigade’s S-3 (operations) sergeant major.
“It’s the only Army aviation brigade in the country,” Hawkins said. “We cover every aspect of the aviation mission there is to be had. We have [unmanned aerial vehicles], and are getting more. We have scouts. We have an attack battalion. We have fixed-wing. We have medevac, Chinook, Black Hawk. So even though we’re not a theater asset, we are a theater asset. We work with Eighth Army. We work with the 19th Expeditionary Sustainment Command. We’re the only aviation asset here, so you can almost consider us a theater asset, but we’re with the 2nd Infantry Division.”
If fighting starts on the penisula, not only will Soldiers need to be ready to fight immediately, they will need to fight together. That means their preparation needs to include all those Soldiers they will fight with, whether that means other battalions or their partners in the Republic of Korea army, Hawkins said.
“In the states, many units focus on their own mission and don’t really interact much with the other battalions,” Hawkins said. “Here, it’s day-to-day operations where you are going to go do a mission with another battalion. That’s kind of unique. I’ve been in 22 years, and it’s one of the first times I’ve seen that.
“With the CAB — this CAB in particular — we have partnership agreements with the ROK army aviation units and our ROK Army counterparts,” Hawkins said. “When we go to the field, a lot of times, we’ll go to the field with them, and it’s a joint learning environment where we have back briefs each night on what we’re doing, helping them bring their aviation assets further along.”
Training with the ROK army is made easier by those serving as a Korean Augmentation to the United States Army, or KATUSA. KATUSAs are Korean soldiers who serve with the U.S. Army during their required time of 21 months of Korean military service. KATUSAs have studied English and can ease communication, Williams said.
“Just to have the KATUSAs in your formations brings a vast amount of information and resources, because they speak the language and they know the customs,” Williams said. “We’ve done some training with the ROKs, and the good news is we’ve done a lot of joint training. We’ve done a lot of training with the infantry units and the armor units, along with our ROK counterparts, up at Rodriguez Range. We’ve done huge amounts of training.”
Importance of junior NCOs
Junior NCOs also appreciate the training environment in South Korea. Sgt. Matthew Godbold, an aircraft mechanic with B Company, 602nd Aviation Support Battalion, 2nd Combat Aviation Brigade, said the opportunities for professional development are many.
“It is an amazing place for professional development because you actually have a lot more time to focus on your job,” Godbold said. “It’s really good for first-assignment Soldiers because you have a wealth of knowledge from your senior NCOs and your junior NCOs. A lot of them have combat experience and a lot of experience on the job, so this is a great place for new Soldiers to come to get really good on-the-job training. The hours put into maintenance here are a lot more than in the States. So they get a lot more time on the aircraft and a lot more time to learn other skills, because they focus a lot here on soldiering skills as well, not just maintenance — the whole spectrum: whether it be soldiering, counseling, combat-skills training or overall maintenance, too.”
With so many young Soldiers arriving to Korea, it’s a good trial-by-fire for NCOs, Godbold said. NCOs in Korea have to be ready to mentor young Soldiers in their duties and responsibilities.
“Soldiering and mentoring junior soldiers is really big here because there is a really big flow of, I guess you’d say, trouble,” Godbold said. “Soldiers come here, and this being their first unit, some just go crazy. It’s their first time getting a paycheck, so they go out and experience things. It’s a good thing to experience Korea and what the culture has to offer, but do it responsibly. It’s a big issue with NCOs having to keep an eye on their Soldiers to keep them out of trouble.
“Also, know your job well,” Godbold said. “Because new Soldiers, coming fresh out of training, coming here for the first time, you have to know how to train them so they can learn their job. So, job knowledge and basic Soldier skills would be good things for NCOs to have here.”
Sgt. David Henson, an aircraft mechanic with A Company, 4th Aerial Reconnaissance Battalion (Attack), 2nd Aviation Regiment, 2nd Combat Aviation Brigade, also spoke of the pressure of mentoring young Soldiers in Korea.
“A lot of new people fresh out of school come here, the newer privates,” Henson said. “As an NCO, you’ll have a lot of privates, so you get to do a lot of education, a lot of teaching and training. In that regard, for NCOs it’s great. Privates get a lot of training; they’re fresh and ready to learn.”
Adding to the heavy focus on training is the knowledge that the threat from North Korea is so immediate, Godbold said.
“The training here is high-impact,” Godbold said. “Our motto is ‘Fight Tonight.’ So we train in a way to always be prepared, because at any moment we could be stuck in a combat situation. Part of our training method is ‘train as you fight,’ so we go out in full battle rattle and shoot at these ranges.
“The training tempo is high, and they focus a lot on it,” Godbold said. “But on the opposite side, they also focus a lot on maintenance, especially in the combat aviation brigade. So you get the best of both worlds — it’s soldiering, combat skills and maintenance. You’re always busy at work.”
One of the important lessons learned from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan is the need to train and work in tandem with the in-country partners of the U.S. Army.
Nowhere has that important practice been as complete and as enduring as in South Korea. Since 1950, soldiers from the Republic of Korea’s army have served side-by-side with their U.S. counterparts. Though every Korean male must serve in the Korean military for at least 21 months, only about 3,600 Koreans earn the privilege to serve with the U.S. Army as a Korean Augmentation to the United States Army, or KATUSA.
These KATUSAs serve alongside U.S. Army Soldiers and are functionally part of the U.S. Army — from morning physical training, to tactical training, to the rest of the workday — said Staff Sgt. John Dills, community relations NCO for Eighth U.S. Army at Yongsan Garrison in Seoul, South Korea.
“They work with you, they do PT with you,” Dills said. “They do everything, but they are a step aside. They are not down or up or below or above, but just a step aside you. Chain of command-wise, they fall under you, but they still fall under the Korean government. So it’s a unique partnership.”
Korean soldiers who apply to become KATUSAs must first pass a standardized English test. Of those who pass the test, a lottery is drawn from the qualified applicants. About 1 in 10 of the applicants are accepted to be a KATUSA, according to Eighth Army officials.
Cpl. Kyupin Jung, a KATUSA working with Eighth Army’s G-4 (Logistics), said he applied to become a KATUSA so he could learn more English and experience a different culture. When done with his 21 months of service, Jung expects to finish his degree in mechanical engineering.
“In Korea, military service is mandatory,” Jung said. “I looked at the options — the Korean army, navy, air force and marines — and I decided the KATUSA program would be good for me. I can study English and experience American culture, so I applied. It’s hard to get into KATUSA, so I was lucky.”
KATUSAs get about two months of training before they begin working alongside the U.S. Army, said Cpl. Young Ho Kim, a KATUSA serving as a translator for Eighth Army.
“We have about four weeks in ROK army basic training, then go to KTA, which stands for KATUSA Training Academy, and take about three weeks of American-style basic training,” Kim said. “We learn about the military acronyms and the cultural differences between the U.S. Army and the ROK army. We have to memorize the ranks and insignias, because it’s different than the ROK army side. Then we have to pass a PT test. Then we are ready to go.”
The KATUSA program started in 1950 during the Korean War with a request from Gen. Douglas MacArthur to Republic of Korea President Syngman Rhee. In July 1950, Rhee put all ROK forces under U.S. command. Gen. MacArthur used the Korean soldiers to fill critical shortages. The liaison program has continued since then without a formal written agreement.
After the Korean War, the program continued with Korean soldiers spending about 18 months as part of the U.S. Army before returning to the ROK army to train others. But South Korea developed its own training centers, this practice ended, and KATUSAs now spend virtually their entire military service in the U.S. Army.
Eighth Army commander Lt. Gen. Bernard Champoux in January told the Korea Times that the KATUSA program is critical to the success of the U.S. Army, and he has requested more KATUSA soldiers from Korea. KATUSA soldiers help out in areas where U.S. Army NCOs have less experience, said Sgt. Michael Falcon, an Early Warning Systems Patriot missile operator with D Battery, 6th Battalion, 52nd Air Defense Artillery Regiment, 35th Air Defense Artillery Brigade.
“They’re excellent soldiers,” Falcon said. “They work very hard. They’re always smart, especially when it comes to Excel and PowerPoint. They’re a great help with that stuff, they really are. They’ve been a pleasure to work with.”
Because of their knowledge of English, KATUSA soldiers often fill the critical role of translator and intermediary between the U.S. and Korean forces, said Cpl. Taelim Kim, a KATUSA serving in Eighth Army’s Headquarters and Headquarters Battalion command group.
“I feel the program is really important for the ROK side as well as the U.S. Army,” Kim said. “For the U.S. Army to stay in Korea, the language is a real big issue. KATUSAs are the main key to easing those language problems. KATUSAs hold a critical role because they are the translators to the U.S. Army and also to the ROK side.”
For U.S. Army NCOs and Soldiers serving for the first time in Korea, KATUSA soldiers can help ease the transition to a new culture, said Staff Sgt. William Sobczak, an intelligence sergeant for Eighth Army’s G-2 (military intelligence).
“A lot of KATUSAs are highly educated, otherwise they wouldn’t be KATUSAs. It’s not just a stereotype,” Sobczak said. “They are not all from well-to-do families, but they’re all a cut above the rest of the conscripts in the Korean Army. Most of them speak English pretty well and are pretty friendly. They’ll take Soldiers out and show them around. I’ve gone out shopping with KATUSAs; there’s an exchange of cultures.”
But that cultural exchange isn’t always easy, Sobczak said. It’s important for American NCOs serving in Korea to try to understand the differences without being judgmental, he said.
“I would tell Soldiers new to Korea to be as open minded as possible,” Sobczak said. “There are a lot of cultural differences. When I was a private, I would walk in and see my KATUSA roommate washing his feet in the sink and say, ‘What are you doing?’ Or he’d walk around in his ‘tighty-whitey’ underwear. There aren’t a lot of boundaries and personal space [in Korean culture]. So you have to be open-minded and experience the culture as much as possible. The KATUSAs are a good way to facilitate jumping into the culture.”
When working with KATUSAs, U.S. Army NCOs also should remember the long-term goals of the partnership and how their relationships could affect those goals, said Staff Sgt. Tommy Morales, a manpower NCO with Eighth Army.
“It’s important for young NCOs to know that the KATUSAs are the future leaders of Korea. The relationships we build with them now can have positive effects for the long term because they’re going to be politicians and working for the government,” Morales said. “The way we treat them now can have lasting effects in the long run.”
The military police force on Yongsan Garrison is a good example of how KATUSAs are seamlessly incorporated into the U.S. Army. Each two-person MP team is made up of one U.S. Soldier and one KATUSA. Cpl. Sang Hyun, a KATUSA serving as an MP, said serving eight-hour shifts with a U.S. Soldier allows for a lot of cultural exchange and gives him a chance to practice English. Hyun plans to complete his education in architectural engineering when he completes his 21-month term as a soldier.
There is a commonly held perception that KATUSA soldiers have it easy compared to soldiers serving in the ROK army. Hyun said that is not always the case.
“Many young soldiers become KATUSAs because they think it is easier than being a ROK army soldier. They should abandon that thought,” Hyun said. “Being a KATUSA is also hard, it’s just a different type of hard. … We have two chains of command, the U.S. chain of command and the ROK chain of command, so we serve two masters. It can be hard.”
Sgt. Yong Joo Park, a KATUSA who works in Eighth Army headquarters, said he sees the program as a blessing. It offers benefits and opportunities that he wouldn’t find if he was serving in the ROK army. However, Park said he would like to see more communication between the sides than he sometimes witnesses.
“Maybe I’m greedy, but I still think there are improvements we can make to this program,” Park said. “One of the big problems is KATUSA soldiers are timid in a way to speak with their U.S. Army NCOs. So, a lot of them begin to think they are being disadvantaged compared to the U.S. Soldiers. But they don’t really say that out loud.”
Park said he hopes to see classes and training for both sides to help ease misunderstandings. Both sides could understand the other better with some help, he said.
“That’s important for the alliance to understand each other, rather than just thinking about ourselves and what we can get from the other side,” Park said. “That’s not an alliance; that’s just trying to benefit from the other side. We have to try to benefit from each other. That’s what this is for.”
Command Sgt. Maj. Ray Devens, Eighth Army’s command sergeant major, recently told the Korea Times that he has been amazed by what he has seen from the KATUSA program.
“There is no other country that allows its citizens — their children — to come to our Army and fall under our leadership,” Devens said. “They help us a great deal and, the partnership we get between the KATUSAs and our Soldiers is a really key part. … When we have aggressors that come toward us, they are the ones who are going to fight together.”
While serving in the U.S. Army, KATUSAs play many roles in addition to the one they’ve been assigned. They serve as informal translators, help U.S. Soldiers understand Korean culture and help ensure the Korean-U.S. partnership continues to run smoothly. In the end, it is the KATUSAs who ensure the motto of the ROK-U.S. alliance — “Katchi Kapshida” or “Let’s Go Together” — stays true.
With U.S. troops out of Iraq and the war in Afghanistan winding down, there are few places left where Soldiers serve on the knife’s edge. One of those places is South Korea. Though the Cold War seems to be over almost everywhere else, it is still alive on the border between South and North Korea.
Because of that threat, U.S. Army Soldiers serving in South Korea must train harder and be more prepared for battle than almost anywhere else, senior leaders said. Soldiers must learn about the risk North Korea poses and be prepared to fight alongside their Republic of Korea army counterparts at any time.
With a group of top NCOs sitting in the audience, Command Sgt. Maj. John W. Troxell, the senior enlisted leader of United States Forces Korea, spoke in stark terms of what Soldiers serving in Korea need to be prepared for.
If North Korea were to attack, mobilizing combat power would be just one of many worries, Troxell told the NCOs gathered in an auditorium on Yongsan Garrison in Seoul, South Korea. Though the U.S. Army’s motto in Korea is “Fight Tonight,” many young Soldiers may not understand all that motto entails.
“What does it mean to be prepared to ‘Fight Tonight?’” Troxell asked. “That’s the question we have to ask ourselves every day. … We have to prepare our young men and women for the chaos that will probably happen if we are called upon to ‘Fight Tonight.’ We, the senior enlisted leaders of this great fighting force, are the ones who have to make sure that our junior enlisted are prepared mentally, physically and emotionally for what can happen.”
U.S. Army NCOs serving in Korea are reminded every day that readiness and the ability to “Fight Tonight” is key to enforcing the armistice, which has (mostly) kept the peace between North Korea and South Korea since 1953.
“I know some of you are out there saying, ‘Hey look, it’s been 60 years since this war ended.’ But I will tell you, we don’t have a peace treaty or anything like that,” Troxell said. “We have a time-out. We said, in 1953, we’re going to sign this armistice that says we are going to stop shooting at each other. The armistice is in place now.”
The most important piece of keeping that armistice in place is making sure that North Korea knows the punishment for breaking it would be swift and severe, said Command Sgt. Maj. Ray Devens, command sergeant major of Eighth Army, the Army component of U.S. Forces Korea, which is headquartered on Yongsan Garrison.
“The primary part of our mission is really deterrence — deterrence, understanding the armistice, maintaining a level of focus that will allow that armistice to remain in place,” Devens said. “If a decision is going to be made to break [the armistice], it’s going to be on that side. We’re not going to put anything out there to cause them to get angered or provoke them. We do that through our example. The best deterrence is North Korea knows that we are together with South Korea. They know they’d have two strong forces they would have to deal with: the Republic of Korea and the whole United States.”
The U.S. Army’s partnership with the Republic of Korea’s army is special, forged with the knowledge that, should the worst happen, they will be counting on each other in combat.
“I was pleasantly surprised when I learned of the ROK and U.S. alliance,” Devens said. “Before arriving in country, I really didn’t understand the extent of our relationship with the ROK army. I assumed it was like any other partnered nation. The alliance here is beyond compare to any other. We train together, and, if called upon, we fight and win together, not only with the ROK Army but with the key contribution to our US forces, the KATUSA. The KATUSA program is a 60-year tradition that places a Korean soldier in our formations so Eighth Army leaders are responsible for their U.S. Soldiers and the KATUSA soldier in their formation. It is an outstanding program to witness.”
Troxell urged NCOs in Korea to not only sustain the alliance with the ROK army, but to strengthen it. Strengthening the alliance will take a concerted effort by NCOs to make sure some of the natural segregation that can occur is avoided.
“What this means to us is everything we do should be along with our ROK partners,” Troxell said. “It should be a combined and joint effort. Whether it’s training, whether it’s leader development, whether it’s battlefield circulation, whether it’s social events, we should be building this team.
“I’ve gone out and visited some areas out here, and when I walk into a chow hall, sometimes it can look like the prison yard at Pelican Bay prison,” Troxell said. “What I mean by that is the ROK army folks will be over here eating, the airmen will be over here eating, the Soldiers will be over here eating. We’re kind of in our little groups when really we ought to be figuring out how we all fit together as a team.
“Let there be no doubt: We all know that if the balloon goes up, we have to rely on each other — both in the joint world and in the combined world — because of the nature of the enemy up north,” Troxell said. “So I would ask you that if you are doing something and you have ROK partners who you’re training with and working with every day, you ought to be doing something with them to build the team. You should not just be going through the motions.”
Working on that partnership can be very rewarding for NCOs who do it right, said Sgt. Maj. Robert Groover, the Eighth Army G-7 (military information support operations) sergeant major.
“It’s a great experience,” Groover said. “You are going to see things here that you won’t see stateside, and you get to interact with a partner. This is one of the few places where we have a partnership like this. Our Korean counterparts are equal and in tune with us. I salute Korean officers every day, and they salute back. We have KATUSAs working here with us, so you get that true interaction. It’s interesting. You get to see it firsthand, instead of reading about it in The NCO Journal.”
Though Soldiers may have worked with foreign partners in the past, the partnership in Korea is different because of the closeness, said Staff Sgt. Erika Ortiz, an intelligence sergeant for the Eighth Army G-2 (military intelligence).
“It’s different than other partnerships,” Ortiz said. “You get to see them working next to you. You get to see the exchange of communication and job-related information. It’s a larger experience, and it puts you at an advantage because, if you deploy anywhere, you already have that experience. It gives you an overview of what our allies can be capable of.”
One thing each Soldier in Eighth Army will tell you about serving in South Korea is that you have to be prepared to work — and work hard — immediately upon arriving in the country. Assignments in South Korea usually last only a year, so that quick rotation adds to the work speed, said Staff Sgt. Latoya Barrett, a career counselor for Eighth Army.
“Because of the in-and-out of personnel, and people coming in and leaving, when you come here, your job is already set and ready for you to take it and run with it,” Barrett said. “You come into Korea with work piled up and waiting for you to get here. By the time you clear your desk, it’s your time to leave.”
Staff Sgt. Tommy Morales, a manpower NCO for Eighth Army, agreed that the high operational tempo in Korea is something Soldiers notice right away.
“Eighth Army is a great organization,” Morales said. “It is very challenging. The op-tempo, the workload, is high. We’re always working; it’s a hardship tour. When you come to Korea, you are going to work. That’s a good thing. You learn more. You develop relationships. It builds you. You can gain all this experience and pass it on.”
Part of the high op-tempo in Korea is a serious focus on Physical Readiness Training. It’s something Sgt. Martarius McCalebb, a logistics NCO with Eighth Army’s G-4, said Soldiers need to be prepared for.
“The tempo is high-speed,” McCalebb said. “We take the new PRT very seriously over here. You’re going to work hard. One thing I would tell Soldiers coming over is they will have to get used to running up and down hills.”
The focus on PRT in Korea is necessary because of the nature of the enemy and the mindset needed for combat readiness, Troxell said.
“The key to us being ready to ‘Fight Tonight’ is how physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually prepared we are to do our duties,” Troxell said. “The cornerstone of that is our health and physical fitness. When I see a service member that looks to be overweight or in bad shape, I look at that person as a potential liability as we move forward into combat operations here, if we have to, God forbid.”
Eighth Army has set aside 0630 to 0800 for PRT, with no meetings or other events allowed to start before 0900, Groover said.
“0630 to 0800 is the only time of the day you do PRT, and it’s the only thing you are doing during those hours,” Groover said. “You’re not going to a meeting, you’re not having an appointment, you don’t have anything else. You’re getting your body ready to go through the day. That’s a big change — the re-energizing, refocusing on being physically and mentally prepared to ‘Fight Tonight.’”
Senior leaders want units doing PRT together between 0630 and 0800, and not creating their own PRT schedule, because PRT is not designed solely for individual physical fitness and readiness, it is to progressively develop the teams’ combat-focused fitness level each duty day, Devens said.
“The Army put the ‘R’ between ‘PT’ because our senior leadership saw that PT had become an individually focused event, and was missing the ‘readiness’ part.” Devens said. “Soldiers would lift weights to develop a single body part, and that’s their PT plan, or train for the 10-mile team, or a triathlon. It was PT outside of what we are expected to do as warriors.
“We want units to use PRT as a leader-development tool,” Devens said. “I want my E-7s and above to assess young Soldiers and leaders to be prepared for WLC and to be a future NCO for our Army. PRT is the only common tool we all can use throughout the Peninsula — and our Army for that matter — to assess our young Soldiers’ and leaders’ ability to plan, coordinate and execute. Trust them, and they will amaze you with their warrior fitness plans.”
One of the most difficult jobs for an NCO in Korea is making sure his or her Soldiers understand the policies they are serving under and follow those policies. Though they probably won’t be carded during a night out in Itaewon, next to Yongsan Garrison where the drinking age is 19, Soldiers younger than 21 aren’t allowed to drink alcohol. And unlike any post stateside, there is a curfew between 0100 and 0500 for all U.S. Army Soldiers.
“One of the biggest pieces of advice I would give is to follow policy,” Ortiz said. “We have policies. Read them. One important thing is we have a curfew. In the States, you don’t have that. On top of that, the drinking age is a little lower in Korea, but we enforce no under-21 drinking. It’s hard for some of the young Soldiers, because they see that the KATUSAs can drink. Our Soldiers cannot. Seeing that culture and being so young, they can be vulnerable.”
Though living under a curfew can be a difficult adjustment for some Soldiers, there are no plans to change the policy, Troxell said.
“There will not be a revisit on the policy on curfews,” Troxell said. “Who here can tell me some good stuff that happens in off-post bars and clubs between 0100 and 0500? Why not have a curfew? [Because], the curfew is getting the effects we want out of it. Is it preventing everything? No.
Serving in a foreign country calls for a different mindset and policies, said Staff Sgt. John Dills, community relations NCO for Eighth Army.
“You need to have the attitude of knowing that you are an ambassador the entire time you are here,” Dills said. “In your interactions with other people, you need to put the best foot forward. You can’t let yourself slip as maybe you could in another unit. Here, if you do something wrong, maybe something small, it snowballs.”
Focus on the Pacific
But if NCOs and Soldiers make sure to understand and follow the policies, the professional development opportunities in Korea are incredible, said Staff Sgt. William Sobczak, intelligence sergeant for Eighth Army’s G-2 (military intelligence). As the Army begins to focus more on the Pacific, those professional development opportunities will only increase.
“I have noticed it [the Army’s focus on the Pacific] personally,” Sobczak said. “You read in the news that the Department of Defense is Pacific-focused now, especially with the drawdown. Iraq is no more; Afghanistan is soon to be no more. The next threat is really in the Pacific. We need to maintain the balance of power between us and China, and obviously North Korea is always going to be a threat.
“It’s different from what the Army’s mission is elsewhere,” Sobczak said. “Like counterinsurgency, we don’t deal with that here. Korea is obviously force-on-force. It’s the last bastion of the Cold War. If NCOs want to get a different experience and experience that, it’s still going on here. You have one of the largest armies in the world across the border.”
McCalebb agreed that the experience of serving in Korea has helped him develop as an NCO.
“The battle rhythm is a little different than in the States because the threat here is only a couple hundred miles away,” McCalebb said. “In Korea, you could be put in charge at any time, and you have to be ready for it. It helps you … you get called on a lot, so you’re not shy. You are ready to go. You think, ‘I have done this. I’ve been in Korea. I’m always in charge. I’m always on the detail. I’m ready to go.’”
It’s a spirit Troxell said he has seen often while visiting garrisons in Korea. NCOs and Soldiers understand the threat and are aggressively pursuing the necessary education and professional development to move forward.
“I was down in Daegu (South Korea) last week, and I was talking to the folks down there who are responsible for supplying people up front logistically,” Troxell said. “I was amazed how some of those leaders understood the potential for North Korean special operations forces and asymmetric threats ending up in the rear areas performing sabotage, terrorist activities and other things to try to sever our supply line. That’s the kind of fidelity we have to have when we talk about the enemy.
“Our young men and women need to truly understand what the threat is up there,” Troxell said. “They have the largest special operations forces in sheer numbers in the world. They have the most artillery pieces in the whole world. They have nuclear weapons. They may be suspect a little bit in some areas like combined arms maneuver, but we have to know that.”
What it comes down to is that Korea, and specifically Eighth Army, is a great place for high-speed NCOs to come and develop professionally, Groover said. It’s a place to find intense training and be able to work with an ally on equal footing.
“When I came here the first time in 1999, we weren’t at war anywhere, and this was the only place you could come to see what it really was to be on the front lines,” Groover said. “As the war in Afghanistan slows down, this will be the front line to get that battlefield, battle-focused training opportunity that you’re not going to see anywhere else. You’re not going to see it in Germany; there is no real enemy there. But there is a multimillion-man army north of us by a couple clicks that could come at any time.”
When Soldiers arrive to the 35th Air Defense Artillery Brigade at Osan Air Base, South Korea, NCOs let them know right away they are about to engage in a real-world mission that will probably be different from anything they’ve experienced before in the Army.
With the Korean peninsula technically still at war 60 years after an armistice was signed, South Korea is counting on these air defenders to keep it safe from any possible attack from North Korea, said 1st Sgt. Luis E. Cruz, first sergeant for Headquarters and Headquarters Battery, 35th ADA Brigade.
“Being here in Korea, in a Patriot battery, brigade or battalion, these individuals, whether it’s leaders, whether it’s Soldiers, they get a real quick understanding of what it’s like,” Cruz said. “We’re at armistice. Technically, we’re still at war, but in a timeout. There is no treaty; there’s nothing like that. So they need to be prepared, and they understand that when they get here. This is real. Because of the threat in the North and what a young leader they have, we don’t know what he’s going to do. We can only make sure we are prepared for what he will do, in case he does do something. These guys understand that.”
Even without NCOs making sure Soldiers understand the stakes of serving in the Republic of Korea, frequent provocations and attacks from North Korea are a regular reminder of the need to be at the ready, said Master Sgt. Daniel Venton, the S-2 intelligence sergeant major for the 35th ADA Brigade. Venton has served in Korea three times during his Army career. One of his stints started soon after North Korea attacked South Korea’s Yeonpyeong Island on Nov. 23, 2010, killing four people, including two civilians, and injuring 19. Tensions spiked after the artillery attack, considered one of the most serious incidents since the armistice was signed in 1953.
“[The need to be ready] is definitely something I notice,” Venton said. “I arrived the same month as the Yeonpyeong attack at the end of 2010. I remember getting to the unit and the high alert everyone was on at the time. There was that very real threat that I had kind of forgotten about, because I hadn’t been to Korea for about six years. I realized how real it was. That was the first time I had seen anything quite on that scale, and it brought what we do — not just in air defense, but what the entire Army is doing on the peninsula — to the forefront. You knew you had to be ready at a moment’s notice. And that’s why, more than any other place, Korea is kind of unique. You have that real threat up North, but you still have family members [with you], and you still have the garrison Army down here in the South.”
Master Sgt. Timothy Kinmon, NCO-in-charge of electronic missile maintenance for Headquarters and Headquarters Battery, 35th ADA Brigade, said he was also reminded of the danger from North Korea during each of his four tours. He mentioned the sinking of the ROKS Cheonan, a South Korean warship, in March 2010. The torpedo attack killed 46 South Korean sailors. Though North Korea denies they were responsible for the attack, an investigation showed the torpedo was fired from a North Korean mini-submarine.
“Every time I’ve been to Korea, there’s been some sort of provocation from North Korea where we’ve ended up at states of heightened alert,” Kinmon said. “I’ve seen everything from navies exchanging fire, to mini-submarines on the coast, the sinking of the Cheonan, the shelling of Yeonpyeong Island in [November] 2010. We have a real threat to the North. At any minute, we could be called upon to perform our jobs and defend our assets here in-theater.”
That active threat means that when air defense Soldiers arrive in Korea, their NCOs immediately get to work making sure they are fully trained and ready to do their jobs. New arrivals quickly learn the motto of “Fight Tonight,” and what that means for their mission, said Master Sgt. Richard Stanton, master evaluator for the 35th ADA Brigade.
“In Korea, you will be doing your job on a daily basis,” Stanton said. “There is no downtime. We have to stay mission-ready at all times, 24/7 — ‘Fight Tonight.’ If they don’t know their job when they get here, they will know it when they leave, for sure.”
Young enlisted Soldiers may show up not knowing how important the mission is in Korea, but they quickly learn. Spc. Victor Seidlertz, a Patriot advance launcher maintainer/operator for B Battery, 2nd Battalion, 1st ADA Regiment, 35th ADA Brigade at Camp Carroll, Korea, said he didn’t know what to expect when he arrived.
“When I first came to Korea, I didn’t really get the sense of urgency,” Seidlertz said. “I was like, ‘What’s the big deal?’ When we started to go to class, I learned it’s actually a big deal why we are here. We’re not just defending a few Soldiers; we’re defending the whole peninsula from North Korea. So if something goes down, we have to be ready to go at a moment’s notice. Keeping up on our training is very critical and vital.”
Though in most places Soldiers get 180 days to complete their Table 8 certification, which shows that a Soldier is ready to do their job and can prepare a Patriot missile to fire in a certain time frame, in Korea Soldiers have to complete their Table 8 Patriot certification within 90 days of arrival.
Getting Soldiers quickly trained and ready takes a huge effort from the NCOs and officers serving in Korea, Cruz said. Serving in Korea will test the training and teaching skills of noncommissioned officers.
“The training here for a Patriot unit is very in-depth, very detailed,” Cruz said. “It’s critical for these guys when they get here to do their certification process. By regulation, they have a specific time — 180 days — to get certified on these systems. Well, we don’t have that time here in Korea. We have to pack it into a 90-day period. From the moment they get here, it’s a very rigorous, very tough training.
“It takes a lot of time and a lot of effort from our leaders, from the top down, to ensure these guys are doing the right thing and meeting the gates to be certified,” Cruz said. “It’s incredible the amount of effort these Soldiers and these leaders put into it to get to that level of certification and to accomplish the mission here in Korea.”
Spc. Amanda Hendrick, of B Battery, 2nd Battalion 1st ADA Regiment, 35th ADA Brigade, said she enjoyed having an important mission and a feeling of purpose while serving in Korea.
“Here, we have a mission,” Hendrick said. “We go do our mission. We do our Table 8, and we’re ready to protect the Korean civilians. It’s really cool.”
“A lot of the platoon sergeants immediately meet up with their Solders who are in-bound, and they start giving them material they need to start studying, to prepare them,” Cruz said. “It’s those engaged leaders who are going in there and making sure the Soldiers get the information they need, so they’re ready.
“I think this is a great opportunity for air defense Patriot members to come experience what it’s like to be on that short notice, learn your job to the ‘T,’” Cruz said. “I think it’s tough, realistic, and I think Soldiers and leaders soak it in and enjoy it. I wish all units and personnel would rotate through Korea to get an understanding of how operations run and how we get after getting certified.”
Life in Korea
In addition to the professional rigors of serving in Korea, many newly arriving Soldiers worry about what life in Korea will be like during their time there. With a little time and patience, life in Korea can be very rewarding, said Staff Sgt. Parker James, a Patriot advance launcher maintainer/operator with D Battery, 6th Battalion, 52nd ADA Regiment, 35th ADA Brigade.
“It might take awhile to get used to the area, the people and the culture. But if you’re patient and accepting, it will be good,” James said. “Get out and experience Korea. It’s a fun place to be. Put in your passes, and don’t let the opportunity go to waste.”
The country offers many cultural opportunities, plus lots of fascinating history to learn, said Master Sgt. Christopher Harrison, the communications chief for the 35th ADA Brigade.
“I would tell a person coming to Korea for the first time to get out and enjoy it,” Harrison said. “Do the home visits, the tour of the Demilitarized Zone, and learn about its history, its past, its culture. Korea is one of the fastest-growing countries out there right now. Sixty years ago, there was nothing; now, big cities are built up, and communications and industry is first class. They have come a long way in 60 years.”
Serving in Korea is a unique opportunity to serve in an environment that is a mix of the garrison and deployed environments. Venton said it’s a place where Soldiers, NCOs and officers work hard, but have opportunities not available elsewhere.
“Here in Korea, you have that ability to take off your uniform, put on civilian clothes, hop on public transportation and go see some of the country,” Venton said. “You don’t get that in other deployed environments. Korea is one of those places where, though technically it is a war zone, the country we’re defending is not in a state of disarray. It’s an organized country, moving right along, and we’re here protecting them. We’re here allowing them to move on with their lives. Instead of being frozen in time like a lot of other countries that are in a war-torn state, South Korea has just been chugging along.
“Because of that, we’ve been able to say, ‘Hey, our Soldiers are doing a good job here,’” Venton said. “‘Let them get some time off, let them see the country they’re defending, but still be ready to go at a moment’s notice.’ You have that dual hat here in Korea.”
What it all adds up to for the NCOs and Soldiers with the 35th ADA Brigade is an experience that is enriching professionally and personally. Soldiers learn their jobs well and NCOs have many opportunities to train and lead — all serving a vital mission.
“The Soldiers over here are really some of the best Soldiers the Army has,” Venton said. “I’m sure every unit says that about their Soldiers, but the air defense Soldiers over here I think are the best in the world. They are constantly training. They are ready to do their jobs at a moment’s notice. They really do have that ‘Fight Tonight’ mentality. It’s not just a cliché; it’s a state of mind over here in Korea. They know what’s at stake, and they know how important their jobs are.”
Korea’s Missile Defenders showcase their skills
The 35th Air Defense Artillery Brigade named their Missile Defenders of the Year after a competition Oct. 28-29 at Osan Air Base, South Korea.
The competition was an important part of reminding Soldiers and NCOs of the importance of staying prepared at all times to defend Korea. That spirit is reflected in the brigade’s motto, “Ready in Defense, Always.” The brigade’s Soldiers work hard, and the competition is one way to recognize that hard work, said Sgt. Maj. James Brazill, the S-3 operations sergeant major for the 35th ADA Brigade.
“You always want to highlight them and their achievements because they are working so hard,” said Brazill, who helped organize and run the competition.
Contestants had to participate in a physical fitness test, missile defense crew drills and a rifle marksmanship test, in addition to written tests about the Patriot missile system.
Spc. Daniel Davis said he prepared for the competition the same way he prepares for all the work he does in Korea — with lots of hard work and physical training.
“My philosophy boils down to three things: Know your job, know your weapon and do some PT,” Davis said. “And that’s not just PT in the morning. Do PT on your off time, too. I go to the gym six days a week, and that helps me be physically ready for anything. Just doing this drill (a Patriot crew drill for the competition) — when I first got here I’d be breaking a sweat just running a launch and doing crew drill. Now look at me: too easy.”
The winners in the engagement control system portion of this year’s Missile Defender of the Year competition were the team of 2nd Lt. Megan Paris, Spc. Laura Duran and Pfc. Ryan Eaton, all with D Battery, 6th Battalion, 52nd ADA Regiment, 35th ADA Brigade. Spc. Connor Moore and Spc. Vanessa Meaney with A Battery, 6th Battalion 52nd ADA Regiment, 35th ADA Brigade, were victorious in the launcher station crew portion.
The competition was a chance for Soldiers to show off all they have learned while in Korea, said Master Sgt. Daniel Venton, the S-2 intelligence sergeant major for the 35th ADA Brigade.
“It’s one thing to say, ‘Yeah, I’m good at my job.’ It’s another thing to be able to come out to an event like this, the Missile Defender of the Year, and actually prove it,” Venton said as he watched the competition. “That’s what these Soldiers are getting a chance to do today.”
The official magazine of noncommissioned officer professional development