2nd Infantry Division gets new commander amid rising tensions with N. Korea
By KIM GAMEL | STARS AND STRIPES Published: July 18, 2017
CAMP CASEY, South Korea — Maj. Gen. Scott McKean took command of the Army’s 2nd Infantry Division on Tuesday, inheriting a combined force that is gearing up to complete a long-delayed relocation south even as it faces a growing threat from North Korea.
McKean, who returns for his third tour of duty on the divided peninsula, vowed to strengthen the alliance with his South Korean counterparts.
“The Korean Peninsula consistently has had periods of high tension. But it’s the strength of our alliance that? keeps us ready to deter those type of activities,” he said during a brief press conference before the change-of-command ceremony.
The Warrior Division — which will celebrate its centennial on Oct. 26 — has been manning the front lines since the 1950-53 war, but McKean takes the helm during a time of transition as the processing of moving the bulk of U.S. forces to an expanded base south of Seoul gains momentum.
The move has been frequently postponed due to construction and quality control issues since Washington and Seoul agreed in 2004 to move U.S. forces south of the Han River, which runs through the capital, Seoul.
But several units already have moved to Camp Humphreys, and the outgoing commander Maj. Gen. Ted Martin said the headquarters would probably leave its home at nearby Camp Red Cloud to join them “within about the next year.”
Tuesday’s ceremony, which included the passing of colors and a review of U.S. and South Korean soldiers standing in formation, could potentially be the last high-level change of command on the Indianhead field at Camp Casey in Dongducheon.
Martin dismissed concerns their departure may leave the heavily fortified border vulnerable. The military has said soldiers will commute north for training exercises and the 210th Field Artillery Brigade will maintain a forward presence at Camp Casey.
“It’s a move into the future,” Martin said. “As far as readiness to deter enemy aggression and to respond to provocations, it really does not matter where we are stationed. We move like lightning and we are very mobile.”
During Martin’s 27-month tenure, 2ID has performed as a combined U.S.-South Korean division. He also oversaw the transition from the permanently stationed Iron Brigade to a rotational system.
McKean, who was most recently chief of the U.S. Central Command’s Office of Security Cooperation-Iraq, previously served in 2ID as a captain 22 years ago and as the executive officer for former U.S. Forces Korea commander Gen. James Thurman from 2012-13.
North Korea has demonstrated faster-than-anticipated progress in its effort to develop a nuclear-tipped missile that could reach the U.S. mainland. It also has massed what is believed to be a powerful arsenal of conventional weapons and forces on its side of the buffer zone that separates it from South Korea.
On Monday, South Korea’s new government proposed military talks to try to ease tensions with the North. The White House said it believes the possibility of resuming dialogue with Pyongyang is not imminent.
Martin, whose former forces are considered a “tripwire” to prevent a potential invasion, said he would welcome “any actions that seek to reduce tension on the peninsula.”
“Whether or not the North Koreans accept this hand of friendship that has yet to be seen,” he added. “Down here at the tactical level our job is to maintain our readiness and to be prepared to fight tonight.”
The 2nd Infantry Division comprises the bulk of the 28,500 U.S. servicemembers stationed in South Korea to help protect the country after the war ended in an armistice instead of a peace treaty.
Outgoing 2nd Infantry Division commander Maj. Gen. Ted Martin, right, looks on as 8th Army commander Lt. Gen. Thomas Vandal, center, congratulates Maj. Gen. Scott McKean as he assumes the helm of the Warrior Division during a ceremony at Camp Casey, South Korea, Tuesday, July 18, 2017.
KIM GAMEL/STARS AND STRIPES