U.S. Forces Korea Command Sgt. Major Troy Welch is to leave South Korea the first week in May after serving five years on the peninsula.

U.S. Forces Korea Command Sgt. Major Troy Welch is to leave South Korea the first week in May after serving five years on the peninsula. (Teri Weaver / S&S)

YONGSAN GARRISON, South Korea — When Troy Welch came to South Korea five years ago, he saw something he’d never seen in his two decades with the U.S. Army.

The command sergeant major said it showed up in entry-level training, friendships and, once he moved into his office at U.S. Forces Korea headquarters two years ago, even in commanding generals’ decisions.

“It’s unbelievable,” he said of the closeness between the U.S. and South Korean militaries. “I’ve been in Germany twice, and never, ever have I seen the closeness of two militaries as this one. This is hands down the best alliance I’ve ever seen in my life.”

Welch, 45, is leaving that team when he steps down May 6 as the top enlisted servicemember among USFK’s 32,500 troops to take a position in Washington.

Welch’s new assignment will deal more with Army equipment than soldiers. He’ll be the Army’s G-4 command sergeant major in charge of logistics — ordering, delivery and taking inventory of equipment for soldiers around the world.

During his tenure here, he’s overseen new training regimens, closed bases, moved troops into new quarters and made other decisions that execute the military’s transformation to a smaller, more concentrated force in South Korea.

He’s also made tough choices about servicemembers’ lives here, including revoking driving privileges for younger troops, raising the drinking age and monitoring the military’s nightly curfew.

Perhaps one of the greatest challenges, he said, came toward the end of last summer. Strike Force, a brigade within the Army’s 2nd Infantry Division, got orders for a yearlong Iraq deployment. The commanders trained the troops for urban warfare at Rodriguez Range near the North Korean border, Welch recalled during an interview in his office.

“It’s never easy, standing on a tarmac, shaking hands and sending folks off to combat,” he said. “But what makes you feel good about that is knowing that they were trained. Those kids were ready to go.”

Much of the training Welch helps oversee has evolved in the past few years to reflect current conditions in the Middle East, he said. Troops in South Korea are doing more live-fire convoys and more preparations for suicide car-bombers, he said.

Welch joined the Army 28 years ago as a cook. He’d been to South Korea before for exercises, but was never stationed here until 2000, when he became the command sergeant major with the 23rd Area Support Group at Camp Humphreys and then the 19th Theater Support Command at Camp Henry. He moved to USFK headquarters in May 2003.

He’s seen plenty of change since arriving in South Korea.

“You go to Camp Humphreys today, and it surely isn’t the Camp Humphreys of five years ago,” he said, referring to the new commissary, exchange and housing units going up there.

Welch said he believes South Korea is a better place to serve than when he first came.

“Quality of life in Korea over the past five years has changed immeasurably,” he said. “Anytime you have over 11,000 take AIP (Assignment Incentive Pay) to stay here in Korea, that’s a good sign. Something is going right. And I don’t think it’s just the money.”

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