Newly formed US Army Garrison Yongsan-Casey holds first full-scale base exercise
YONGSAN GARRISON, South Korea — About 300 U.S. and South Korean first responders practiced evacuating families from homes and used saws and hammers to pry victims from car crashes in an exercise at the Army’s newly unified garrison for bases north of Seoul this week.
The four-day drill, which ends Friday, tested emergency services at K-16 Air Base, Yongsan Garrison and Camp Casey, the three major installations maintained by what is now officially known as U.S. Army Garrison Yongsan-Casey.
Jon Blevins, the garrison’s emergency manager, said the goal is to make sure crews are ready to respond to scenarios ranging from potential intruders to natural disasters like a typhoon that threatened the area in August.
“The idea is you get everyone involved and go through the whole process,” he told Stars and Stripes on Thursday. “If you need to send a dump truck somewhere to pick something up because it’s storm debris, then you should actually have the guy get into the truck, take the dump truck to that location and then take something back to prove that you can do it in coordination with other elements.”
Blevins added that such exercises, combined with real-life lessons from events like Typhoon Soulik, keep first responders prepared for both turning the lights off in responding to an emergency as well as turning them back on to restore normal operations.
That was on display Thursday at Yongsan, a sprawling base in the heart of Seoul. Emergency crews evacuated soldiers acting as families from their houses, then took them to a support center that could address their needs. Firefighters and police responded to car crashes, using saws and hammers to rescue people from burning vehicles.
Simultaneously, Blevins and his team were managing crashes and fires at K-16 and Camp Casey.
A key difference in the drills this year is the rapidly declining population of the bases as most U.S. forces are being relocated to a newly expanded Camp Humphreys. That means fewer people to spot a crisis.
Those gaps were the focus for a visiting evaluation team from Humphreys led by that base’s director of emergency services, Charles Walker.
“It’s difficult keeping people in the mindset, that you have to maintain vigilance even though you are closing,” he said. “Reducing is not an excuse to reduce the standards. That’s what terrorists and personnel who want to do harm want.”
Yongsan-Casey combines a front-line area of bases in what was formally known as Area I and Area II — an administrative streamlining for a region that stretches nearly 80 miles south of the heavily fortified border with North Korea.
Blevins said as demographics change they are focusing on ensuring they will continue to have the “right balance.”
The garrison needs to maintain a proper police and fire presence while also knowing when to use local services like the main U.S. military hospital — like it did at Yongsan this week — or when to call for help from South Korean agencies using mutual aid agreements — like it did at K-16 and Casey.
Walker said he liked what he saw at Yongsan-Casey this week.
“What they do now is what they’re going to do if something happens,” he said. “You have to train as you fight.”