KATUSAs stand as symbol of ROK-U.S. alliance
November 1, 2011
SEOUL, South Korea, Nov. 1, 2011 -- The Korean Augmentation to the United States Army, or KATUSA, program was initiated in July 1950 by an informal agreement between the South Korean President Rhee Syng-man and Gen. Douglas MacArthur. Sixty years have passed since the agreement but the KATUSA program still continues due to the commitment for freedom and democracy by both nations.
"Most Korean men choose to serve their mandatory military service as ROK (Republic of Korea) Army soldiers, while some choose to serve in the ROK Navy, Marines, or Air Force," said 19th Expeditionary Sustainment Command Republic of Korea Support Office commander Maj. Noh Gong-chool. "Yet others choose to apply to become a KATUSA and serve alongside U.S. Soldiers."
Becoming a KATUSA is not easy though. It requires taking standardized English tests and most of all, luck.
"KATUSA applicants must score 780 or above out of 990 on the test of English for international communication, or over 690 out of 990 on the test of English proficiency developed by Seoul National University," said Noh. "I know that students study hard to obtain these scores so they can apply to the program."
A lottery is drawn from the qualified applicants with a competitive ratio of approximately 10.5 to 1. Once selected, each KATUSA trainee completes six weeks of ROK army basic training at Nonsan Training Academy and three weeks of KATUSA/U.S. training at the KATUSA Training Academy, or KTA, at Camp Jackson.
"We learn the basic military customs and courtesies at KTA," said Pvt 2nd Class Nam Hyun-wook, 19th ESC G-1. "If Nonsan is about being a ROK soldier, KTA is about being a U.S. Soldier."
During the last week at Camp Jackson, KATUSA trainees are classified into different method of services depending on their majors, English abilities and other certifications. After graduation from KTA, KATUSAs go to their respective Eighth Army units and start working alongside their peer Soldiers.
New KATUSAs normally come to a unit on a monthly basis. For two years, KATUSAs automatically rise in rank from private to sergeant -- E-2 to E-5.
"As a KATUSA, we need to understand both U.S. and ROK army policies and cultures. For example, KATUSAs are automatically promoted but our American counterparts are not. We work, live and train with U.S. Soldiers, but we still abide by the basic rules of the ROK army," said Cpl Lee, Min-soo, 19th ESC Personal Administration Center. "In a way, we're like hybrid soldiers, a mix of U.S. and ROK army cultures."
Lee believes that KATUSAs play a vital role in strengthening and maintaining the U.S.-ROK alliance.
"As KATUSAs, we represent South Korea by working hard and being on top of our games," said Lee.
Sometimes U.S. Soldiers tease KATUSAs, saying that they only get paid $80 per month or that KATUSA are here just to do their mandatory service. These jokes are correct to some degree. Most KATUSAs do not have battlefield experience, but like any U.S. Soldier, KATUSAs are willing to engage the enemy to protect their nation.
"Incentives or monetary compensation are unnecessary in the urge to defend our nation," said Noh.