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In Korea, NCOs get real taste of partnership through KATUSA program

By JONATHAN (JAY) KOESTER
NCO Journal

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.”

Cpl. Young Ho Kim (center) sits with his fellow KATUSAs during a training session at Yongsan Garrison in Seoul, South Korea. Kim said he had enjoyed learning from the style of leadership he has seen in the U.S. Army. “The U.S. Army tries harder to understand us person-to-person. They respect differences and the difficulty of being a Soldier,” Kim said. (Photo by Jonathan (Jay) Koester)
Cpl. Young Ho Kim (center) sits with his fellow KATUSAs during a training session at Yongsan Garrison in Seoul, South Korea. Kim said he had enjoyed learning from the style of leadership he has seen in the U.S. Army. “The U.S. Army tries harder to understand us person-to-person. They respect differences and the difficulty of being a Soldier,” Kim said. (Photo by Jonathan (Jay) Koester)

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.”

Sgt. Johnston Albert Jr. (right) and Cpl. Il Shin Kim, both Soldiers with A Detachment, 176th Financial Management Support Unit, 501st Special Troops Battalion, 501st Sustainment Brigade, demonstrate immediate lifesaving measures while U.S. and South Korean soldiers observe during sergeant’s time training in October on Yongsan Garrison, South Korea. (Photo by Jonathan (Jay) Koester)
Sgt. Johnston Albert Jr. (right) and Cpl. Il Shin Kim, both Soldiers with A Detachment, 176th Financial Management Support Unit, 501st Special Troops Battalion, 501st Sustainment Brigade, demonstrate immediate lifesaving measures while U.S. and KATUSA Soldiers observe during sergeant’s time training in October on Yongsan Garrison, South Korea. (Photo by Jonathan (Jay) Koester)

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.

Group works to steer Soldiers away from trouble in Korea

By JONATHAN (JAY) KOESTER
NCO Journal

When a group of junior NCOs saw the bad situations Soldiers were getting themselves into during nights out in Korea, they decided they needed to come up with a solution.

What they saw was that age-old story of Soldiers going out for a good time, but overdoing it to the point where fights, curfew violations and other problems would result. And often, when those Soldiers needed a little help, there was no one there for them.

Out of that problem came No Battle Buddies Left Behind, a group that began at Camp Walker in Daegu, South Korea, but quickly expanded to Yongsan Garrison in Seoul and has now spread to Hawaii, Alaska and even Germany.

The group is different than regular courtesy patrols in that it is made up of volunteers in civilian clothes. Their only mission is to get Soldiers back on post safely.

The NCO who started the first chapter was Sgt. Vainuupo Avegalio, microwave communications system team chief for 169th Signal Company, 36th Signal Battalion, Eighth U.S. Army. Avegalio said he had the idea after two of his Soldiers were able to stop a potential sexual assault in downtown Daegu and then help a female Soldier get a taxi and back safely to post. He then realized more Soldiers could use help.

“We started off with just five members,” Avegalio said. “We started walking about the downtown Daegu area — the really popular party spots for the Soldiers. We started with just a simple question, ‘Hey, are you all right?’ If we saw them leaning or sleeping on a table, we’d wake them up and say, ‘Hey, are you all right? You think it’s time to go home?’ If they said yes, then we’d help them get home.

Col. Tommy Mize (left) of Eighth Army recognizes Sgt. Vainuupo Avegalio with a coin for his work starting No Battle Buddies Left Behind. Avegalio started the group to help Soldiers avoid trouble during their time serving in Korea. (Photo by Jonathan (Jay) Koester)
Col. Tommy Mize (left) of Eighth Army recognizes Sgt. Vainuupo Avegalio with a coin for his work starting No Battle Buddies Left Behind. Avegalio started the group to help Soldiers avoid trouble during their time serving in Korea. (Photo by Jonathan (Jay) Koester)

“Most of the funds to pay for taxis come from the volunteers’ pockets,” Avegalio said. “They are taking their own cash, their own money, because they believe that what they are doing is an awesome thing. They are ensuring we don’t leave a battle buddy behind. None of them have a doubt in their mind that they are doing something great.”

It surprises some volunteers just how appreciative Soldiers who have over-imbibed are to get a helping hand.

“For the most part, they don’t even realize they need help until someone asks them,” Avegalio said. “Then, because someone asks them, they say, ‘Yeah,’ and they are appreciative of it.”

Sgt. Robert Lawniczak, barracks manager for 19th Personnel Company, 501st Special Troops Battalion, Eighth Army, started a chapter of No Battle Buddies Left Behind at Yongsan Garrison in Seoul after reading about Avegalio’s group on Facebook. The Itaewon area of Seoul is notorious for Soldiers getting into trouble. But now they have a group looking to defuse problems before they escalate.

“The feedback we are receiving is that service members and civilians appreciate us being out there to help protect them and not try to ‘bust’ them,” Lawniczak said. “We have seen a big change with service members helping and correcting others before we get to them. Some have even helped us out in some situations to talk to a person who was out of control, and they helped to get them to act right, or get them back to base. We have also helped some of the main hangout-spot owners by letting them know our intent of making sure that the people who come into the establishment are not causing any issues with their behavior. This has definitely improved the relations between the Korean establishment owners and the United States military.”

Volunteering with the group also gives young NCOs and Soldiers a chance to go out and see a bit of Korean culture while doing good — and without the worry of getting into trouble, said Sgt. 1st Class Jeffrey Waldrop, headquarters platoon sergeant for the 169th Signal Company.

“The young Solders who are under the legal drinking age often don’t go out on the weekend and see some of the Korean and Daegu culture,” Waldrop said. “They stay in their rooms and play video games. This gives them a chance to get with a group that’s going downtown, and who aren’t going to drink. It gets them off post to see some culture.”

As a more-senior NCO, Waldrop said he has seen how volunteering with No Battle Buddies Left Behind can sometimes have a more positive effect than the usual courtesy patrols.

“I’ve had weekends before where I was mandated to be on Senior Leader’s Presence, and I had to go out in my uniform with the first sergeant and sergeant major and walk through,” Waldrop said. “They see that kind of group coming from a block away. They are like, ‘Get down! Here comes the courtesy patrol, senior leader’s patrol.’ I change into civilian clothes and go out the very next night with this group, and it’s a totally different thing. It’s like we’re their peers, and they want us out there.”

The group offers a way for NCOs and Soldiers to do something they can be proud of on the weekend, instead of just playing video games or drinking, Avegalio said.

“In your time here in Korea, don’t just follow the crowd,” Avegalio said. “Do something worthwhile. Do something great. You can look back at your time here in Korea and be proud.”

On the internet: www.facebook.com/battlebuddy4life

 

Nearby threat means training, tempo, PRT all increase for NCOs serving in Korea

By JONATHAN (JAY) KOESTER
NCO Journal

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.”

Partnership

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.

Sgt. Johnston Albert Jr. (right) and Cpl. Il Shin Kim, both Soldiers with A Detachment, 176th Financial Management Support Unit, 501st Special Troops Battalion, 501st Sustainment Brigade, demonstrate immediate lifesaving measures while U.S. and South Korean soldiers observe during sergeant’s time training in October on Yongsan Garrison, South Korea. (Photo by Jonathan (Jay) Koester)
Sgt. Johnston Albert Jr. (right) and Cpl. Il Shin Kim, both Soldiers with A Detachment, 176th Financial Management Support Unit, 501st Special Troops Battalion, 501st Sustainment Brigade, demonstrate immediate lifesaving measures while U.S. and South Korean soldiers observe during sergeant’s time training in October on Yongsan Garrison, South Korea. (Photo by Jonathan (Jay) Koester)

“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.”

Op-tempo

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.”

Policies

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.

Both U.S. and South Korean soldiers gather around Sgt. Jeremy Landers as he conducts sergeant's time training in October on Yongsan Garrison, South Korea. (Photo by Jonathan (Jay) Koester)
Both U.S. and South Korean soldiers gather around Sgt. Jeremy Landers as he conducts sergeant’s time training in October on Yongsan Garrison, South Korea. (Photo by Jonathan (Jay) Koester)

“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.”

 

Military must slow growth of pay, health care costs

By JIM GARAMONE
American Forces Press Service

SEOUL, South Korea – The military has to look at the entire package of compensation, health care and retirement, Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey told a U.S. Forces Korea Town Hall meeting Oct. 1.

The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and his wife, Deanie, spent an hour answering questions from the joint service audience. Budget issues were a main concern for the service members.

Personnel costs have to be brought under control, the chairman said. He assured the service members that any changes to military retirement would be grandfathered. “So the question is what do we do with retirement for the next generation of Soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines,” he said. “But compensation … and health care costs are growing at rates that are unsustainable to the all-volunteer force.”

This does not mean cuts, the chairman said. “We may not actually have to reduce pay and benefits, but we have to slow the growth.”

Last year, for example, DOD recommended a 1-percent pay raise for military personnel. Congress upped the total to 1.8 percent. Slowing the rate by just that much would have saved DOD $13 billion. Instead, the money to pay for the raise came out of readiness accounts, the chairman said.

In an interview with reporters traveling with him, Dempsey expanded on this. He noted he has been through three drawdowns in his career that began in 1974: the post-Vietnam drawdown, the post-Cold War drawdown and the current one. This one is alarming to him because it is the steepest drawdown he has seen.

“The steepness of it puts us in a position to not exert enough control on balancing our requirements across all the accounts, whether they are manpower accounts, modernization, maintenance, training, family care,” he said. “It’s extraordinarily challenging to try to balance the budget because of the steepness of this drawdown.”

He is worried about the long-term effects. Under sequester, the DOD must cut an additional $52 billion from the budget in fiscal 2014. “If I were able to shrink the force, close some unnecessary infrastructure, potentially cancel some weapons systems that we don’t think are as important as others, I think I can probably balance it and not affect readiness to the extent we are,” he said.

But Congress will not allow another base realignment and closure process, and Congress has continued some weapons systems the department has specifically said it does not need. “Because there are parts of the budget that are untouchable to me at this point,” he said. “Unless I can touch some of those things, it all comes out of readiness, which means the next group to deploy will be less ready than they should be.

“That’s not a position that our armed forces should be in as the greatest military on the planet serving the greatest nation on the planet.”

And sequestration could continue to be a year-by-year process, and that is dangerous “because we are asking the force to live with uncertainty and do it a year at a time,” he said. “Eventually I think they are going to lose faith if we do it a year at a time.”

U.S. Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, right, answers a question during a town hall meeting with service members, families and civilians in Seoul, South Korea,on Sept. 30, 2013. Dempsey and his wife, Deanie Dempsey, visited with more than 300 military community members stationed throughout South Korea, where they spoke about the goals and challenges of the Department of Defense. (Army photo by Staff Sgt. Luke A. Graziani)
U.S. Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, right, answers a question during a town hall meeting with service members, families and civilians in Seoul, South Korea, on Sept. 30, 2013. Dempsey and his wife, Deanie Dempsey, visited with more than 300 military community members stationed throughout South Korea, where they spoke about the goals and challenges of the Department of Defense. (Army photo by Staff Sgt. Luke A. Graziani)

NCO helps passengers escape South Korea train wreck

By CAPT. JAMES WILLIAMS III
1st Signal Brigade Public Affairs

A U.S. Army sergeant with the 36th Signal Battalion, 1st Signal Brigade, broke through a window to help passengers escape when two trains collided Aug. 31 south of Seoul, South Korea.

Staff Sgt. Steven Royster was aboard a high speed express train, known as KTX, when it was struck by a local train shortly after departing the Daegu train station.

Staff Sgt. Steven Royster shows his bandages after leaving a hospital in Seoul, South Korea. Royster suffered lacerations that required six stitches to close while helping passengers escaped from a train involved in a crash. (Photo by Sgt. 1st Class Sarrah Price)
Staff Sgt. Steven Royster shows his bandages after leaving a hospital in Seoul, South Korea. Royster suffered lacerations that required six stitches to close while helping passengers escaped from a train involved in a crash. (Photo by Sgt. 1st Class Sarrah Price)

“The train hadn’t even got up to full speed before we were hit and derailed,” Royster said. “The power went out and we were stuck, so I started breaking a window.”

Royster successfully broke through the window and, with the assistance of Mr. Kang Jang Yoon, helped several passengers through the window to safety.

“I want to give him (Kang) a thanks because he was the one who helped me communicate with the rest of the people and he was the one that took me to the hospital,” Royster said. “It was a good example of teamwork that represents the U.S.-Korean alliance.”

Royster suffered several deep lacerations to his hand and arm while breaking the window that required six stitches.

Reports state that a total of 870 passengers from both trains were safely evacuated, none of whom had life threatening injuries, and that 11 passenger cars derailed in the collision.

Royster is originally from Jacksonville, N.C., and is a seven-year veteran with an Iraq deployment under his belt. He is an information technology specialist currently working in cyber security with the 36th Signal Battalion Headquarters.