Fort Riley, Kansas-based brigade begins 9-month rotation in South Korea
By KIM GAMEL | STARS AND STRIPES Published: October 27, 2016
CAMP CASEY, South Korea — The 2nd Infantry Division commander said Thursday he is “very concerned” about the recent spate of nuclear and missile tests by North Korea, as a new rotational unit began a nine-month deployment near the heavily fortified border that divides the peninsula.
The Fort Riley, Kansas-based 1st Armored Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division took the reins from the Fort Hood, Texas-based 1st Armored Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division in a transfer of authority ceremony on Indianhead field at Camp Casey.
The 2nd Battalion, 18th Field Artillery Regiment also replaced the 3rd battalion, 13th Field Artillery Regiment, both stationed at Fort Sill, Okla. The multiple-launch rocket system battalion is part of the 210th Field Artillery Brigade, which is the first line of defense against North Korea’s forces massed on the other side.
It’s the third installment of a new rotational system designed to maintain U.S. troops as budget cuts make it more difficult to keep units abroad. Commanders say it also increases readiness because the soldiers train and deploy together as a unit, eliminating constant turnover.
Maj. Gen. Theodore Martin, commander of the 2nd Infantry Division that oversees the area, said the growing threat from North Korea underscores the need for troops to be cohesive and well-prepared from the time they arrive.
He said two of his children were at the airport near Seoul preparing to fly out of the country when North Korea conducted its fourth nuclear test in January, sparking the current crisis.
The communist country’s leader, Kim Jong Un, has continued to defy U.N. Security Council sanctions to persist with his weapons programs, carrying out a fifth underground nuclear explosion in September and test-firing some two dozen ballistic missiles.
“I am very concerned,” Martin told Stars and Stripes in an interview after the ceremony. “His ability to accurately deliver weapons of mass destruction on my battlefield means my soldiers need to be better trained. They need to be quicker.”
He added his soldiers are spending more time training with chemical protection equipment.
“We’re having to invest a lot more time and energy into that,” he said. “I thought we were good, but the enemy, our potential adversaries, are upping their game, so I’m not only going to match them, I’m going to exceed them with my capabilities.”
The 1st Armored Brigade Combat Team is the third unit deployed with the 2nd Infantry Division under a plan which inactivated a brigade that had been based in South Korea since 1965. The soldiers will train side-by-side with their South Korean partners.
The rotational system will be tested as the 1st Armored Brigade will be split between its traditional base in the north and south of Seoul at an expanded Camp Humphreys, which eventually will be the new headquarters for all U.S. forces in Korea.
The U.S. maintains some 28,500 servicemembers in South Korea after the 1950-53 war ended with an armistice instead of a peace treaty.
The move to Humphreys has been repeatedly delayed because of construction problems and other issues. Military leaders have stopped discussing timelines but say most major units will be in place by the end of next year.
A battalion from the previous rotational brigade was the first major unit to move from the mountainous area near the front lines to Camp Humphreys in July, but the bulk of the 2nd Infantry Division, which is considered the Army’s most forward-deployed and combat-ready division, remains just miles from North Korea.
The new brigade commander, Col. Timothy Hayden, said combat brigades are accustomed to operating in large areas and expressed confidence the adjustments needed to move vehicles and troops back and forth would go smoothly.
“I don’t let the distance scare me. It’s not that far away frankly and it’s a great opportunity for us as a brigade combat team to make sure that we stay sharp on distributed mission command, especially in the terrain that we have here in Korea,” he said.