At 73 years, KATUSA program continues to strengthen ROK-US alliance

By Kenji ThuloweitAugust 14, 2023

Eighth Army celebrates 73rd birthday of KATUSA program.
Eighth Army celebrates 73rd birthday of KATUSA program. (Photo Credit: U.S. Army graphic) VIEW ORIGINAL

CAMP HUMPHREYS, South Korea — August 15 is recognized as the birthday of the Korean Augmentation to the United States Army Soldier program, or KATUSA. The program was created only weeks after the Korean War ignited, and to this day KATUSAs continue to serve side-by-side with Eighth Army Soldiers providing priceless support and friendship.

The Korean War began June 25, 1950. Roughly three weeks later the KATUSA program was initiated July 15 by an informal agreement between the Honorable Syngman Rhee, president of the Republic of Korea and General of the Army Douglas MacArthur, commander in chief, United Nations Command.

During the first two months of the war, the Republic of Korea Army had been destroyed as a fighting force and the U.S. Army was significantly understrength and had been “compressed” into the Pusan perimeter by North Korean forces, as described in an official Army report. Replacements and fighting men were in desperate need.

The concept of the KATUSA program was to augment the U.S. forces. In the beginning most KATUSAs were recruited directly off the streets of Pusan, now spelled Busan. After a basic training period, KATUSA Soldiers were sent to combat units serving as infantrymen. The first KATUSAs reached U.S. Army units by mid-August 1950. They were issued U.S. supplies, but were paid by and remained administered under the Republic of Korea Army. Throughout the Korean War, up to a maximum of 23,000 KATUSAs served at any one time, according to the Army.

After the 1953 armistice, KATUSA Soldiers remained with U.S. Army units to receive training not readily available in the ROKA and to enhance U.S. Army in Korea's mission capability.

Since 1950, the KATUSA Soldier Program has been ongoing with only periodic strength adjustments dictated by requirements. Originally, KATUSA Soldiers were returned to the ROKA after serving with the U.S. Army. Since 1968, however, KATUSA Soldiers remain with Eighth Army until their service commitments are completed.

The ROKA Support Group was established May 11, 1965 at the request of the Eighth Army commander to administer the KATUSA Soldier program.

Today, young South Korean men planning to conduct their mandatory military service obligation can apply to become a KATUSA if they have a command of the English language and if positions are available.

Eighth Army has stated the KATUSA program increases the ROK-U.S. combined defense capability on the Korean peninsula. The program is also significant not only because of the military manpower and monetary savings that it provides to the U.S. Army, but also because it puts a face on the ironclad ROK-U.S. alliance and the combined commitment to deter war.

The KATUSA program is the very essence of one Eighth Army’s favorite phrases, “katchi kapshida,” — “we go together.”

Information for this article provided by Eighth Army and these sources:

“Integration of ROK Soldiers into US Army Units (KATUSA)” (U.S. Army)

“The KATUSA Experiment” by David Curtis Skaggs (excerpt)