U.S., S. Korean troops hit the beaches
SEOUL — Thousands of U.S. and South Korean troops stormed two beaches this week as part of a massive training exercise that officials hope will pave the way for the further evolution of military relationship between the countries.
About 1,100 U.S. Marines and sailors joined their South Korean counterparts — as well as South Korean army and air force personnel — for the Korean Integrated Training Program exercise.
Lt. Col. Mark Kustra, with Marine Forces Korea operations, said the exercise showcased capabilities as “a combined team” with the South Koreans leading.
South Korea plans to take full wartime operational command of its troops in 2012. When it assumes that mission, the U.S. military will fall into a supporting role, military officials have said.
South Korean marines conducted advanced amphibious operations aboard their new amphibious ship, U.S. Marine 1st Lt. Jorge O. Escatell, the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit spokesman, wrote in an e-mail.
On Thursday, waves of amphibious assault vehicles and helicopters — both U.S. and South Korean — delivered the combat forces to two beaches on the southeast coast of the peninsula.
The 31st MEU Marines, from Okinawa, arrived aboard Amphibious Squadron 11, including the Japan-based ships USS Essex, USS Juneau and USS Tortuga.
Kustra said the U.S. and South Korean militaries hold joint amphibious exercises each year, but “not to this scope.”
He said the South Koreans had more than 20 ships, and he estimated a division of South Korean marines hit one of the beaches.
Kustra said another big difference was attaching an entire South Korean marine battalion to the 31st MEU for the exercise. The South Korean marines lived on the ship and were shoulder-to-shoulder with their U.S. counterparts during the landing.
“I’ve heard nothing but positive things and that it went really well,” Kustra said of meshing the forces for the training. He added that it was good to “actually execute the things we talk about.”