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Airmen assigned to the 8th Fighter Wing are welcomed to Kunsan Air Base, South Korea, in May 2004 as they step off the Patriot Express, a commercial flight chartered by the U.S. military.

Airmen assigned to the 8th Fighter Wing are welcomed to Kunsan Air Base, South Korea, in May 2004 as they step off the Patriot Express, a commercial flight chartered by the U.S. military. (S&S photo)

OSAN AIR BASE, South Korea — The chartered airline service that brings about two-thirds of U.S. troops to and from South Korea duty each year will cease flights to the peninsula as of Oct. 1, officials said.

Thereafter, servicemembers will enter or leave South Korea aboard commercial flights at Incheon International Airport, said Air Force Maj. David Dutcher, U.S. Forces Korea transportation chief.

The Patriot Express is a commercial airliner that flies U.S. servicemembers to 27 locations worldwide, including South Korea, under a charter with the Department of Defense.

But in a cost-cutting move, the Defense Department will by 2008 phase out Patriot Express service to all but five locations: Guantanamo Bay, Diego Garcia, Bahrain, Kuwait, and Incirlik, Turkey. It may use the Patriot Express to airlift troops into other locations when it needs to, Dutcher said.

“It’s financial,” said Dutcher. “Cost saving to the Department of Defense. Now the Department of Defense is losing approximately $67 million per year over what it would cost to fly by a commercial aircraft.”

The Patriot currently makes two flights to South Korea weekly. Each year it brings about 20,000 U.S. servicemembers — mostly Army and Air Force — to South Korea assignments and takes about the same number out when their tours end, Dutcher said.

World Airways holds the contract for the chartered South Korea Patriot Express flights.

Each Tuesday, the Patriot Express flies from Seattle to Osan Air Base in South Korea, then to Kadena Air Base on Okinawa then back to Seattle.

Each Thursday it flies from Seattle to Osan Air Base, then south to Kunsan Air Base, then back to Osan Air Base and on to Seattle.

“Those missions will terminate on October 1,” Dutcher said.

To replace the Patriot service, the U.S. military in South Korea will move troops in and out of Incheon seven days a week, Dutcher said. It already brings in about 12,000 troops each year through the commercial airport, and has been using commercial flights to bring troops to Korea “probably as long as there have been commercial aircraft,” said David Oten, a USFK spokesman.

The Army’s 1st Replacement Company will continue staffing its existing replacement desk at Incheon Airport, Dutcher said.

The U.S. military will increase the number of buses currently making round-trips between the airport and other locations. By Oct. 1, the schedule will run as follows: nine buses per day between Incheon Airport and Yongsan Garrison in Seoul; six daily between Incheon and Osan Air Base; four daily between Incheon and Kunsan Air Base; one daily between Incheon and Dongducheon.

Officials eventually may refine the arrangements, Dutcher said.

“Right now,” he said, “we are increasing the number of buses to be able to pick up inbound personnel and we are going to be using the first 90 to 120 days after the end of Patriot Express to truly evaluate how we’re going to refine the reception process at Incheon, with the understanding that we may have to have some flexibility, where we may need to adjust bus schedules, et cetera.”


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