By Jim GaramoneDecember 11, 2008
WASHINGTON (AFPS, Dec. 10, 2008) - Tour lengths for some family-accompanied assignments in South Korea will be extended to three years, Pentagon officials announced Wednesday.
David S.C. Chu, undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness, signed the directive Dec. 1, calling on the services to present implementation plans by March 1. After reviewing the plans, DOD officials will set an implementation date.
Under the directive, accompanied tours will be extended from 24 to 36 months in Pyeongtaek, Osan, Daegu, Chinhae and Seoul. Tours in Dongducheon and Uijongbu will change from not allowing family accompaniment to allowing 24-month accompanied tours.
Unaccompanied tour lengths are unaffected, and remain fixed at 12 months at all seven locations and 24 months for key personnel.
The longer tours will improve regional security objectives, as well as benefit training and cost savings, Pentagon officials said.
"Longer tours translate to better grounding in local operations, thus improved performance, and sends a clear signal of U.S. resolve in the region," Pentagon spokeswoman Eileen Lainez said.
Longer tours would enhance training for servicemembers and reduce personnel turmoil while increasing stateside "dwell time" at home stations and reduce costs incurred when servicemembers move more frequently, officials said.
But officials acknowledged that longer tours have downsides, including the need for more schools, clinics, day-care centers and stores to accommodate the families. Also, defense leaders will have to determine if troops in South Korea on long tours would be available for deployments out of the country. All these issues would be subject to discussions with South Korean allies, officials said.
The move is the culmination of a long process. U.S. commanders in Korea - including current U.S. Forces Korea chief Army Gen. Walter Sharp - have long argued that conditions in South Korea have improved and that more accompanied tours are appropriate.
Under agreements with the South Korean government, U.S. forces are moving out of camps established in 1953 at the end of the Korean War. As the U.S. forces move from the Demilitarized Zone and from the headquarters in Seoul, U.S. officials have the opportunity to re-examine the short-tour approach to assignments.
With changes in the footprint of American forces in the nation, now is the perfect time for a change, officials said. Currently, 90 percent of U.S. servicemembers assigned to South Korea serve a year-long unaccompanied tour. Key personnel serve two-year tours. About 27,500 American servicemembers serve in South Korea.