YONGSAN GARRISON, South Korea — U.S. Forces Korea commander Gen. B.B. Bell has nearly doubled the amount of accompanied billets in South Korea, meaning more than 5,600 troops now will be able to bring their families with them while serving in South Korea.

The move is historic — for more than five decades, South Korea has been considered an unaccompanied duty station, meaning most families stayed stateside during soldiers’ one-year tours on the peninsula.

Bell signed a memo on Aug. 20 that converted 2,823 billets to the accompanied status beginning Oct. 1. That raised the accompanied slots from 2,930 to 5,653 out of about 29,000 billets in South Korea.

“This is a real and measurable move away from unaccompanied one-year family separations — which have been our norm here in Korea since the end of the war — to three-year family accompanied tours,” Bell said during a speech Friday on Knight Field to announce the restructuring of the Army’s medical community in South Korea.

Increasing the number of command sponsorships to enhance force stability and diminish stress on families is something Bell has addressed since taking command in South Korea in February 2006.

USFK deputy director of personnel Lt. Col. Alan Bernard told Stripes on Friday that the goal obviously couldn’t be accomplished overnight.

Infrastructure and logistical concerns had to be addressed before the command could accommodate the influx of people, he said.

“Of course, the challenge is to meter the increase instead of throwing open the flood gates,” Bernard said.

Bernard was a member of the team assigned to address issues such as educational and medical facilities that would be needed.

Bell addressed some of those concerns during Friday’s speech, saying he “directed the immediate construction of additional school space here in Yongsan Garrison to accommodate up to 500 additional children in our schools here, effective with the start of next fall’s school year.

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