By C. Todd Lopez, special to Soldiers MagazineJuly 29, 2008
Soldiers assigned to Korea don't just have the opportunity to live in one of the fastest growing, technologically advanced countries in the world. They also get a military assignment where Army training is second to none, and that will fully prepare them for any follow-on assignment they take.
In Korea, Soldiers must be prepared to fight a war at a moment's notice. The North Korean army has been massed above the demilitarized zone since the cessation of fighting between the United Nations and communist North Korea in 1953. At any moment the North Koreans could decide to resume that fight.
"There is a real danger, a palpable danger every day from the North Koreans," said Command Sgt. Maj. Robert Winzenried, the command sergeant major for U.S. Forces Korea and 8th U.S. Army. "Nobody can really say for sure that one day Kim Jung Il's not going to decide that that's the day to do it and go. So we do have to be prepared for that."
A resumption of fighting with North Korea would look more like a conventional "Cold War" kind of fight than the counterinsurgency that is happening today in Iraq. Such a fight would require Soldiers to be knowledgeable in the full spectrum of operations - defensive, offensive and stability - outlined in the Army's recently released Operations Field Manual 3-0.
The offensive portion of that fight would draw on more than the counterinsurgency skills Soldiers are applying now in Iraq. The fight would include infantry operations, heavy artillery operations, tank and Bradley warfare, airborne warfare and eventually even counterinsurgency operations - so that's exactly the type of training the 2nd Infantry is doing today, Winzenried said.
"In a lot of places they can't do tank table eight or tank table 12, which is a tank or Bradley unit's big gunnery operation," he said. "In a lot of places they just don't have the capability or the time to train that way."
At the Joint Warrior Training Center in Korea, Soldiers can practice live-fire training exercises, either offensively or defensively. And because there is limited training space, Soldiers there use virtual training to create larger scenarios, allowing more Soldiers to train.
"You can be doing a company live-fire training fight against the North Korean hordes as they come over the DMZ, while on a simulation, the battalion-level, brigade-level, or even the division-level can be fighting simultaneously, just like they would in combat," Winzenried said. "It gives them an opportunity to train in a limited space, using all the capabilities we have. It's very high speed."
Exercises like Key Resolve, Foal Eagle and Ulchi Freedom Guardian test the mettle of Soldiers in Korea. The exercises are both command-post exercises, which simulate battle, and intensive military exercises with people and tanks on the ground, and helicopters and airplanes in the air. Key Resolve and Foal Eagle test U.S. forces in Korea, as well as the Korean military's ability to defend the southern half of the peninsula.
"That's where we practice if North Korea invaded, what our response would be and how we would resupply and how we would bring people in, boats, ships, all of those types of things - so it's a very big exercise," Winzenried said. "At the Soldier level, they get the opportunity to see the big war fight piece. When you're a private in a squad out doing patrol, you only see a very tiny piece of the big picture. When you go to one of these big exercises and you get to see the big picture of the war fight, it gives you a different perspective on what's going on. It makes it a little more real to you."
In Korea, Soldiers don't fight alone, they fight a joint fight. So training and exercises involve servicemembers from the Seventh Air Force and the U.S. Naval Forces Korea. But American forces alone are not responsible for defending Korea. That responsibility is also shared with the ROK military.
"You have to fight with the Koreans," Wizenreid said. "You have to learn how to interact and operate with coalition partners. It's kind of hard to simulate that in the States. But here you have to do that, so that's another facet of the training here that really is awesome."
In Korea, the Army trains on the entire range of warfighting skills - because Soldiers there must be ready for war. When the war in Iraq is over, all Soldiers will need to brush up on the entire range of skills the Army spells out in its operations doctrine - because the next war might require them, Wizenreid said.
"One thing we've always done well is that we've learned and fought the war we're fighting right now, but we don't do a good job sometimes of preparing for the next war that might come down the road," Wizenreid said. "So this is the last place in the Army where we can train to the full spectrum of combat."
The 2nd Inf. Div.'s Command Sgt. Maj. Brian Stall said division Soldiers are busy keeping those conventional warfare skills sharp.
"There's not a day that goes by that a unit's not out in the field honing its Soldiers' skills," he said. "Just because you're in Korea doesn't mean the training stops. We're the only division that's focused on a full-spectrum combat mission. Other divisions are presently focused on counterinsurgency, because they are the force providers in Afghanistan and Iraq. We owe it to our bigger Army to maintain those core mission-
While full-scale invasion from the north is always a very real possibility, with the U.S. military fighting alongside the ROK army, U.S. commanders are confident they already know what the outcome of such a move by North Korean dictator Kim Jong-il would be.
"If North Korea attacks, there is no question about the outcome, none at all," said Lt. Gen. Joseph Fil, 8th Army commander and chief of staff of USFK. "This will be a victory for the Alliance, no doubt about it. And the outcome for North Korea is unquestioned."
The readiness of American Soldiers in Korea doesn't just act as protection against an attack from the north. It also acts as a deterrent, Fil said, because the North Koreans are well aware of America's readiness in Korea - and that readiness comes from training.
"The presence of American forces - well trained, well led and well prepared - on the Asian mainland deters the North Koreans," Fil said. "It also provides stability to the rest of the region, just as it has in Europe and Japan. So I think it makes a huge difference. Training is just absolutely essential to our readiness."