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Cpl. Jun Y.B., pictured here last year helping during a NEO drill at Yongsan Garrison, is one of thousands of KATUSAs assigned to U.S. Army units in South Korea.

Cpl. Jun Y.B., pictured here last year helping during a NEO drill at Yongsan Garrison, is one of thousands of KATUSAs assigned to U.S. Army units in South Korea. (Joseph Giordono / S&S)

YONGSAN GARRISON, South Korea — Discussions are under way regarding reductions in the number of Korean soldiers who serve in U.S. Army units, according to U.S. Forces Korea.

About 4,800 soldiers now serve in the Korean Augmentee to the U.S. Army, or KATUSA, contingent.

About 2,400 new troops are recruited annually, but that could drop by up to 50 percent if planned U.S. troop cuts proceed, according to South Korea’s Administration for Military Personnel Management.

Korean soldiers serve in almost every U.S. Army unit in South Korea as part of the KATUSA program.

It’s the only program in the world in which foreign nationals serve full-time in U.S. Army units, officials said. The program originally was designed to reinforce U.S. forces during the early stages of the Korean War.

The Korean male soldiers — who must have a certain level of English proficiency and volunteer for the program — wear an American-style uniform with a Korean army rank. About 20 percent have lived in an English-speaking country, according to USFK.

The soldiers, between ages 18 and 28, are indispensable to the Army, U.S. Army officials say, serving as translators, drivers and cultural guides to South Korea. KATUSAs often are the country’s young elite, taking a break from top universities to fulfill the mandatory 24-month military service.

“KATUSAs are a valuable source of local information and facilitate communication between our two peoples and cultures,” according to Kevin Krejcarek, USFK spokesman.

“They also serve as continuity within many organizations, as the majority of U.S. soldiers turn over on an annual basis. The strong working relationship strengthens the readiness of the combined forces and also contributes manpower to the U.S. Army.”

The Defense Department wants to cut the 37,000 servicemembers in South Korea by 12,500 troops by the end of 2005. Negotiations on the timetable for those cuts continue in the Future of the Alliance discussions.

Throughout this week, soldiers from 2nd Brigade Combat Team of the 2nd Infantry Division started flying from Osan Air Base to Kuwait for eventual duty in Iraq.

About 3,600 soldiers from division units near the Demilitarized Zone are to serve in Iraq; the Army has not stated whether those soldiers will be replaced in South Korea.

KATUSAs from those units will not go to Iraq and will be assigned to other divisions and 8th Army units, Krejcarek said.


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