OSAN AIR BASE, South Korea — Eight years ago, Gen. Robert H. Foglesong was commander of the 51st Fighter Wing — at a time when North Korea and the United States came dangerously close to war.

Foglesong, now Air Force vice chief of staff, presided over a fighter wing that would be the first to fight had the situation soured.

This October, it was déjà vu: The communist nation admitted to working secretly on nuclear weapons despite a 1994 deal former President Jimmy Carter brokered, which halted such work.

“The hottest issue for us was the North Korean nuclear situation,” Foglesong said. “We were pretty well focused on force protection, getting ready for whatever the commander of the United Nations command asked us to do. Coming back now is kind of an interesting time for me to see the same kind of activity.”

The developing situation hasn’t changed the way the Air Force in South Korea does business, Foglesong said: “On a day-to-day basis, we still work very hard to stay focused and to stay as ready as we can.”

The readiness of Air Force units in South Korea is higher because of the peninsula’s wartime footing, he said.

“Our ability to respond is probably a little quicker over here than anywhere else,” he said, “because the last time I looked there were still an awful lot of North Korean soldiers that are aligned relatively close to the [Demilitarized Zone].”

But the revelation — and North Korea’s recent announcement that it will restart mothballed nuclear reactors able to provide fuel for a weapon — won’t change the tempo or focus of airmen stationed in South Korea, Foglesong said.

“I found in 1994 the kind of the same thing I find right now,” Foglesong said. “The focus over here on the peninsula is extraordinary. When you get to Korea, your focus becomes one of being ready. We were always a very ready force.”

More airmen are volunteering to come to South Korea, a sign that the Air Force’s drive to improve the quality of life has changed views, Foglesong said. Osan is in the midst of massive construction and renovation to dormitories aimed at eliminating the need for airmen to live off post.

But a one-year remote tour to the peninsula presents difficulties, he said — and distance factors are difficult to overcome.

“There’s no way that I know of to stop the one hardship that occurs for all of us, and I found this out when I was over here,” Foglesong said. “When you are this far away from the United States, you are literally halfway around the world, and if something catastrophic happens in your family, it’s a long time to get back.”

Air Force leadership is keenly aware of the challenges of serving in South Korea; the service has said much money is being put toward improving base infrastructure, Foglesong said.

South Korea holds many opportunities for career development, he said.

Capt. Mikisha Young volunteered for a one-year tour in South Korea and has recently signed up for another tour. She heard some good and some bad talk about South Korea before she came here, but says she liked Osan from day one.

“Actually I heard various things,” Young said. “You hear both sides of it. Sometimes people say ‘Oh it’s not a great place to be stationed at.’ You are always going to hear both sides.”

Her decision to stay longer in South Korea was in part because it was a good career move, said Young, who is the chief of military equal opportunity at Osan.

“If you want to learn your profession quickly, this is a great place to do that,” he said. “I’m pretty excited about the attitude of people who are volunteering to come over here and work.”

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