Deployment of Patriot missile battalion to S. Korea is complete
OSAN AIR BASE, South Korea — The U.S. Army has completed the deployment of a Patriot missile battalion to South Korea, bringing its Patriot strength on the peninsula to that of a full brigade, officials said Monday.
The move concluded in the early-morning hours of Thanksgiving Day, when final elements of a Patriot missile battalion from Fort Bliss, Texas — the 2nd Battalion, 1st Air Defense Artillery — flew into Kwangju in southwestern South Korea, the Army said.
“Several hours before Thanksgiving, we got all our equipment and personnel on the ground,” Lt. Col. Krewasky A. Salter, the battalion’s commanding officer, said Monday.
“That’s when we closed,” he said. “We’ve been arriving for a while, but we finally had everything closed late Wednesday night, early Thursday morning.”
The battalion is part of the 35th Air Defense Artillery Brigade, recently set up at an Osan Air Base headquarters 48 miles south of the Demilitarized Zone. Brigade personnel occupied the new building in October. Commanded by an Army colonel, the brigade numbers about 1,200 troops.
Establishing an entire Patriot brigade in South Korea came as part of a May 2003 agreement between South Korea and the United States to spend $11 billion to bolster the peninsula’s military defenses.
The battalion’s arrival brings brigade missile strength to eight firing batteries at four peninsula air bases.
The Patriot, designed to destroy incoming aircraft, cruise missiles and tactical ballistic missiles, entered service in the 1980s and saw its first combat use during the Persian Gulf War in 1991. The brigade fields both PAC2 and newer PAC3 Patriot variants.
Some 425 battalion soldiers and its “organic” maintenance unit, the 178th Maintenance Company, now are stationed at a U.S. compound at Kwangju Air Base, a South Korean Air Force installation.
Some personnel arrived in September and October to clear the way for the main body, but the bulk of the troops flew into Kwangju last week over a three-day period, Salter said.
The brigade’s other battalion is the 1st Battalion, 43rd Air Defense Artillery, in South Korea since 1994. It operates Patriot batteries at Osan and Suwon Air Base, both in central South Korea, and at Kunsan Air Base, on the western seacoast.
“The deployment of this unit of 425 soldiers, including state-of-the-art equipment and the most advanced air defense system in the world, brings additional defensive deterrent capabilities to the peninsula,” Maj. Kate Johnson, an 8th U.S. Army spokeswoman in Seoul, stated in an e-mail.
The battalion soon will “inherit” the two Patriot batteries at Kunsan, Salter said. But the batteries will continue to be based at Kunsan, he added.
That will bring to four the number of firing batteries assigned to the 2nd Battalion, Salter said.
“I will inherit the two firing batteries at Kunsan and become a four firing battery” unit, he said. The shift will bring the battalion’s troop strength to about 600, he said.
Deploying to South Korea was “a monumental task” that came off smoothly, Salter said.
The unit’s equipment came by ship to South Korea, and then over a two-week period was hauled to Kwangju, he said.
“In addition to the soldiers, we have over 200 pieces of rolling stock, when you consider our vehicles and trailers,” Salter said.
“For two weeks we were working 24-hour ops to make sure that all of the equipment got in safe and sound,” he said. “Soldiers stayed focused on their mission and we had no incidents on either end of pushing our equipment out and bringing it in.”
The Army alerted the battalion in April it would have to deploy to Kwangju. In the summer they underwent weeks of intensive, Korea-oriented training “to make sure that our Patriot skills were not only up to par for what we do on a day-to-day basis, but also training for the specific mission at hand … some of the nuances that a Patriot unit will do in South Korea as opposed to any other part of the world,” he said.
“Our main focus this week and the rest of the weeks in the near future is to just fine-tune our skills,” Salter said. “That’s what we’re doing. We’re just training every day. We’re here. We have closed. And we’re ready to accomplish our mission.”