Tour acquaints civic leaders with bases
Stars and Stripes June 2, 2007
PYEONGTAEK, South Korea — Seventy-five business and civic leaders, most Koreans, toured Camp Humphreys and Osan Air Base on Wednesday, the first time most had seen the bases at the center of a massive plan to consolidate the U.S. military presence here.
“We don’t have an opportunity to showcase what we’re doing and why we’re here,” said Air Force Brig. Gen. Joseph Reynes Jr., 51st Fighter Wing commander, as he showed the group F-16 and A-10 fighters at Osan. “These people are the Korean taxpayers, and they have a right to see this, and we should have an opportunity to show them what we do.”
The visitors toured the bases as part of the Young Leaders Program, an 18-month-old U.S. Forces Korea effort aimed at educating 30- to 50-year-olds on the U.S. military’s role in South Korea.
At Camp Humphreys, the group took a bus ride past vacant fields that in a few years will be turned into apartment towers, a hotel, training facilities, schools and a golf course.
Army Brig. Gen. Kurt Stein, who oversees the expansion project as the deputy commanding general of U.S. Forces Korea (Advance Element), said closing northern bases and shifting servicemembers to Humphreys will ease friction with South Koreans who live near urban bases, and decrease the amount of land used by USFK by two-thirds.
Moving troops to Humphreys also would make it easier for troops to mobilize during an attack, he said.
“Bottom line: It will provide a more stable, secure and less intrusive environment,” he said.
Air Force Maj. Gen. Stephen Sargeant, USFK deputy chief of staff, said the program is a way to reach out to influential community members who grew up after the Korean War. Of the nearly 300 people who have taken trips with the Young Leaders Program to the Demilitarized Zone, only 5 percent had been there before, he said.
“By capturing this group, we’re capturing 30 to 50 years of support,” he said.
Young Leaders participants said they were impressed by the friendliness of USFK officials during the tour.
Pak Chan-jun, executive director of the Korea Defense and Security Forum, said through a translator that he was impressed by the tour and thought it was important for USFK to continue trying to build a good relationship with South Koreans living near Camp Humphreys.
He questioned, however, USFK’s plan to fire large-caliber weapons only near the DMZ, and smaller weapons at Camp Humphreys.
“I doubt whether it will be really effective in terms of military efficiency to have those two separate firing ranges for heavy and light equipment,” he said.
South Korean Brig. Gen. Chun Inbum told the Young Leaders to tell others about what they learned on the tour.
“We have to spread the word to people … about how important security is, about how important the U.S. alliance is,” he said. “If we don’t spread the word, we might be in great danger.”