“Our primary mission is to be prepared to fight and win.” General Walter (Skip) Sharp, commander of United States Forces Korea (USFK)
General Sharp was interviewed by me and a number of other bloggers on December 15. He commands all the United States military forces in Korea assigned to the defense of the Republic of Korea, some 28,500 Americans in all branches of the service.
USFK is in the midst of a number of basing changes that will see large numbers of its personnel relocated to new locations in the Republic of Korea (ROK) over the next several years. In addition, April 17, 2012, will see the Korean military assume operational control of the defense forces in Korea.
While these changes are underway, the North Koreans continue regular “provocations”, as the General described them. USFK trains on a day to day basis based on threat assessments and the potential dangers of these incidents.
Basing changes underway will see major elements of USFK move southward, including the Second Division. U.S. bases will be reduced from 107 to 42 locations. Camp Humphrey is seeing large scale construction, according the Sharp, paid for by the ROK. When completed, the camp will be the most modern base in the United States military. These movements should be completed in five or six years.
One of the General’s current goals is to improve the quality of life of the U.S. troops stationed in Korea. One proposed change is to extend the current tour of duty in country from one year to two or three years. Along with that change, USFK will be allowing the families of U.S. troops to live in Korea, just as has been the case in Germany and other overseas locales.
At this point in time there are about 3,700 families in Korea. The long term goal is to have about 14,000 command sponsored families in the country. The basing changes include family housing and other necessities. General Sharp told us that the only real concern is enough schools and enough teachers. He is confident that facilities will be available for 6,000 families by 2016.
The General made it clear the the threat from the North was not being discounted even though families are being allowed to accompany their service member. The plans and procedures are in place for an evacuation, should that be necessary in the future. General Sharp stated that the presence of family ought to demonstrate to the North Koreans the depth of our commitment to the ROK, and may serve to deter North Korean aggression.
USFK does not deploy troops to Iraq or Afghanistan as do the other combat units in the United States military. General Sharp stated that there are no plans to do so, and it would only be considered after consultation with the ROK and changes in the behavior of the North Koreans.