I Corps
Spc. Brandon Hartman, an I Corps fire support specialist, reviews firing data with South Korean Maj. Hyun Joo Kim, 3rd Republic of Korea Army field artillery liaison, during Ulchi Freedom Guardian 2010.

JOINT BASE LEWIS-MCCHORD, Wash. -- With news of the sinking of a South Korean navy vessel less than five months old, this year's annual exercise, Ulchi Freedom Guardian 2010, is a timely reminder of I Corps' defense commitments to the country's Asian-Pacific allies.

"There is no hiding that Korea has the potential to be a volatile place," said Maj. Gen. John D. Johnson, the commanding general of I Corps.

An Aug. 18 article on the U.S. Air Force website called Ulchi Freedom Guardian "the world's largest command and control simulation exercise."

It quoted senior Combined Forces Command officials about the nature of the exercise that took place Aug. 16 through 26, which addressed how to fight a combined-force conflict on the Korean Peninsula.

"The annual joint/combined command post exercise is designed to improve the Republic of Korea and U.S. alliance's ability to defend the Republic of Korea," wrote Staff Sgt. Jason Lake of 7th Air Force Public Affairs.

"The complex computer simulation exercise aims to train deployed and permanent party servicemembers while refining senior leaders' decision-making capabilities. In total, more than 27,000 U.S. joint forces and 500,000 ROK forces participate in the annual exercise throughout the peninsula."

For approximately 200 I Corps staff members, the exercise represented an unparalleled training opportunity for its newly assigned staff members and a chance to shake the sand out of their desert boots and focus on traditional commitments.

The corps staff has been rebuilding since it returned from Iraq last spring.

"The normal transition in people ... means (it) is pretty much a new staff from the one that came back in March, but I would say equally talented," Johnson said. "They bring skills from across the military that they've been applying here, and that's a very healthy thing for the corps to get an infusion of ideas and new blood."

New Soldiers, even key leaders, require us to build new teams whose members learn to know and trust each other, he said.

"While they're individually talented, like any new group we have to come together as a team," Johnson said. "Exercises like the one in Korea are the kinds of things that galvanize everyone together, because you have a common goal, a focused goal, to apply your skills against and learn from each other. Our participation in this exercise is very much a part of bringing that new group of talented individuals together as a team."

The new staff will turn from the counterinsurgency fight of the past seven years to more traditional full-spectrum operations. As Operation Iraqi Freedom winds down, I Corps will reaffirm its commitments and re-establish its international partnerships.

"The corps has been focused very heavily on the Pacific in the past," Johnson said. "We haven't been for the past couple years for obvious reasons. It's exciting to refocus in that area. The Korean people are great and they've got a great and professional military. The chance to stand side by side with them and plan and discuss war fighting is something we're all really looking forward to."

Johnson's experience in the region, having taken part in previous Ulchi Focus Lens exercises as deputy commanding general of 2nd Infantry Division, helped him establish meaningful objectives for the corps during senior-leader coordination meetings. He called this year's pre-exercise discussions the most detailed he had seen.

The exercise, Johnson said, provided an ideal chance to combine real-world challenges with corps training objectives for the staff as it shifts from an emphasis on counterinsurgency to full-spectrum operations. Beyond the normal work of learning how to integrate military decision-making models into corps staff processes and give its members experience working in a field environment, Johnson said one of the biggest benefits will be an objective evaluation of the staff.

"We'll come away from this with a great assessment of where we stand, what our strengths and weaknesses are, which will inform our training program for the future," Johnson said.

America's Corps completed its yearlong deployment to Southwest Asia as Multi-National Corps-Iraq five months ago. As with military organizations at all levels, staff members including the primaries, transitioned to new positions. New senior staff leaders will assist the commanding general in modifying the direction of the organization.

With the arrival of Brig. Gen. Lloyd Miles as deputy commanding general and Brig. Gen. Eric Tremblay, the I Corps chief of staff, the training benefits of UFG-10 extend to the highest level.

"This will be the first opportunity I've had to train tactically as a corps commander and it will be the first opportunity they have as deputy corps commanders to train in their new roles," Johnson said. "By the time we come out on the far side of this exercise, we're much better informed on how best to do our jobs as leaders."

Current events have dictated a high seriousness to this year's Korean command-post exercise. A transition in North Korean leadership, the international community's strong suspicion that a North Korean torpedo sank South Korea's 1,500-ton ship, the Cheonan, March 26 with 104 sailors aboard, and more than the usual saber rattling by the enigmatic country have contributed to what Johnson said was a new level of detail in preparations. The roles of the Republic of Korea military and government have also been fine-tuned.

Johnson said he is confident that I Corps will bring its experience in Iraq to the new theater.

"I think the trick is retaining much of (what) we've learned over the past years of the war, specifically in our role as Multi-National Corps-Iraq," he said, "while making room for and improving on those skills you need when you're faced with an enemy in a theater like Korea."

The exercise has been held annually for 34 years. Until 2008, it was known as Ulchi Focus Lens.

(Don Kramer is a reporter with Joint Base Lewis-McChord's weekly newspaper, the Northwest Guardian.)

Page last updated Fri August 27th, 2010 at 13:58