Transformation Underway in South Korea
June 22, 2007
CAMP HUMPREYS, South Korea (Army News Service, June 22, 2007) - As the U.S. military transforms its forces from a Cold War-formation in South Korea, nowhere is the growth more visible than here, in what used to be considered a "sleepy little camp with not much happening," officials here said.
Command Sgt. Maj. William J. Gainey, senior enlisted advisor to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, toured the camp yesterday, talking to troops, reviewing the camp's building progress and receiving an update on its plans for growth.
As one of only two planned "enduring hubs," Camp Humphreys is expected to grow by as much as 500 percent by 2012, rocketing from its current 3,500-troop population to more than 17,000, and making it the largest installation on the peninsula.
Combined with family members, civilian staff and contractors, the population is expected to grow to more than 44,000, according to official estimates.
Camp Humphreys is in Pyeongtaek City, about 55 miles, or a two-hour bus ride, south of Seoul. It's home to U.S. Army Garrison Command and the Area III Support Activity of the U.S. Army Installation Management Command Korea.
Nicknamed "The Hump," until about five years ago, the installation offered little to the troops serving here. Most of the troops traveled about 25 miles north to Osan Air Base for the nicer amenities.
Now, the biggest problem the camp faces is not being able to build fast enough. In Rubik's-cube fashion, engineers have to plan which buildings to tear down and which to build to maintain consistency in services. Nearly 95 percent of the current buildings will be torn down and replaced, said Fred Davis Jr., who is assigned to the Korea Relocation Program Office of the Army Relocation Branch for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Far East District.
Already in the past handful of years, troops serving on the aviation installation have seen new family housing, new barracks, a water park and a new post exchange and commissary complex. The intent, officials here said, is to turn the installation into a "tour of choice."
This would be a drastic turn from a decade ago, when it was largely a single-servicemember's tour, offering family housing only to those in senior leadership.
Under the transformation plan, all U.S. troops in South Korea will move south of Seoul. Officials will turn over to the South Korean government 104 camps and bases scattered across the country. Overall, by 2012, officials plan to reduce the 48,000-acre U.S. footprint in the country by two-thirds and reduce the number of troops from 37,500 to about 25,000.
New barracks are springing up on the installation where once only tents existed for training exercises. Because of the condensed population, official are building high-rise complexes designed for servicemembers to live, work, eat and play all within walking distance.
By 2008, officials will have consolidated much of the 2nd Infantry Division, closed 36 camps and bases, and started developing the two enduring hubs. Camp Humphreys will be one hub combined with neighboring Osan Air Base, and Daegu to the southeast will be the other, with its neighboring Marine Camp Mujuk and the Navy's fleet activities base at Chinhae.
Camp Humphreys will become home to both U.S. Forces Korea and 8th U.S. Army headquarters, as well as a host of other tenant units.
Joint training facilities are planned for Kunsan Air Base in the lower southwest portion of South Korea, two just south of Seoul and one to the north near the demilitarized zone.
The Camp Humphreys family member population is expected to grow by almost 1,000 percent, from about 1,400 to more than 13,000.
In response, engineers are planning multiple housing projects that will offer parks, shopping, dining and entertainment, also all within walking distance.
Two apartment-style family housing units opened recently, with one more scheduled to open in September. Future housing plans call for 33 more 12-story buildings housing up to 72 families each.
Three elementary schools are planned, as well as a middle school and a high school. Currently, the camp has an elementary school and a middle school. High school students ride buses north to Osan.
Seventeen building projects worth more than $542 million are in design at Camp Humphreys. Fourteen projects now under construction are worth more than $215 million.
The cost of the relocation is largely being paid for by the by Republic of Korean government. It is shelling out half of the $8.25 billion needed for the planned 630 new facilities at Camp Humphreys. Other Korean government funding will pay another 22 percent, and private investments make up about 21 percent. The U.S. military construction costs are just under 10 percent.
In exchange, the Korean government is getting back prime real estate in and around Seoul and in other hot spots in the country.
Camp Humphreys sits on about 1,200 acres now, but in three phases of land-use agreements, it's expected to grow to more than 3,500 acres. All agreements are in the works, officials said, and the deals should be closed by the end of summer.
Military officials believe these changes, combined with extended tours and more authorized family accompaniments will help remove the decades-old image of isolated duty in run-down camps and will encourage servicemembers and families to welcome a tour of duty here.
"The move to Camp Humphreys, the consolidation of U.S. forces here in Korea, will allow us to concentrate our precious resources and increase the quality of life of our servicemembers a hundredfold," said Command Sgt. Maj. Barry C. Wheeler, U.S. Forces Korea and 8th U.S. Army command sergeant major.
CSM Wheeler first came to Korea in 1975 and has returned over the years to serve in various positions here, including as the 2nd Infantry Division command sergeant major. When he was first stationed here, CSM Wheeler said, he stayed in open-bay Quonset huts with "35 of his closest friends."
He said the best thing about serving here is the warmth and hospitality of the Korean people.
"If you ever get a Soldier, Sailor, Airman or Marine to Korea, they don't want to leave. It's because of the warmth of the people," he said. "They understand why we are here. They want us to be here."
CSM Wheeler said there is nothing hard about serving in Korea, except for being without your family and possibly your vehicle.
In response, USFK officials are expected to soon ask the Defense Department for more than double the allowance for current command-sponsored families, from 2,800 to nearly 6,000. Some 3,000 non-command-sponsored families already are here, CSM Wheeler said. Still, more than 90 percent of the troops serving here do so unaccompanied.
Congress has to authorize lengthening the tours here, and the Korean government also has a say.
CSM Wheeler said many servicemembers don't want to add another one-year tour away from their families after serving tours in Iraq and Afghanistan.
"When our servicemembers get back from a deployment from Iraq or Afghanistan and then find themselves on orders for Korea, they are going to (want to) bring their families. We may as well get it ready for them," CSM Wheeler said.
"They are bringing them because the country is a great place to serve. And they are electing with their pocketbooks to expend those resources to bring their families because they are not going to be without them," he said.
Non-command-sponsored family members are not authorized family housing and are placed in other military programs on a space-available basis. There are also other health care benefit differences between command-sponsored family members and unsponsored ones.
"Not a day goes by that we don't think about the quality of life for our servicemembers," CSM Wheeler said. "Our men and women serving here should know that the concern their leaders should have for their family members is there, and we look for ways to improve it every opportunity we get."
(Fred W. Baker III writes for the American Forces Press Service.)