NIGHTMARE RANGE, South Korea — Tactical vehicles commonly seen in Afghanistan and Iraq made a rare appearance at a live-fire exercise just 10 miles from the Demilitarized Zone on Monday, but officials were quick to say the Strykers were not brought here in response to recent hostilities between the two Koreas.
“There’s always been a commitment toward the (South Korean) forces here and, whether it’s a Strkyer platform or another kind of unit, this is just one of those things we will exercise on a habitual basis,” said Col. Ross Davidson, commander of the 2nd Infantry Division’s 1st Brigade.
The four Stryker vehicles and soldiers from the 2nd Battalion, 3rd Infantry Regiment based in Fort Lewis, Wash., were brought to South Korea as part of the annual Foal Eagle/Key Resolve exercise that started last week. For about 90 minutes, they simulated the seizing of terrain from an enemy. And while the sound of munitions that echoed throughout the valley might not have been loud enough to reach the DMZ, leaders from the North are sure to get reports about the event courtesy of the 100 media members who were in attendance.
As it often does, North Korea recently threatened to turn the South into a “sea of flames” in retaliation for the staging of this year’s exercise.
Brig. Gen. Chuck Taylor, the 2ID’s assistant division commander for maneuver, said Monday’s drill was not necessarily designed to send any message to North Korea.
“We believe that demonstrating our readiness and demonstrating the capabilities that we have with our (South Korean) alliance (are) absolutely critical to ensuring the security of Korea,” he said. “The exercise is … to ensure the security against any type of threats.
“Strykers have been primary elements in both Iraq and Afghanistan,” Taylor said. “So this is an opportunity right now to show some different capabilities and how they would be employed here in the defense of Korea.”
Col. Bob McAleer, chief of training, exercises and readiness for U.S. Forces Korea, said Monday’s drill and the exercises in general were not meant as messages for the North as much as responses to what has happened on the peninsula over the years.
“Given the rhetoric (and) history over the past year, and the last 50 years… we have to maintain what we call a ‘fight tonight’ readiness,” he said, gesturing toward the DMZ. “Because of the requirement for heightened readiness, we … must have our plans, equipment and training levels at a very high state at all times.”
Davidson said if the Strykers were ever needed back in Korea in the event of an emergency they – like a number of other military assets based in the continental U.S. – could be employed in as little as 18 hours.
McAleer pointed out the North Korean military is about twice the size of the South Korea military, with 70 percent of that manpower deployed at or near the DMZ.
“However … we know with the forces that we have – especially because we’re technologically superior, that we would prevail if they were to attack,” he said.