US, South Korean joint exercise Foal Eagle largest of year
RODRIGUEZ RANGE, South Korea - U.S. and South Korean soldiers fired several rounds of artillery into a hillside here Thursday as part of the largest alliance exercise of the year on the peninsula.
After the half-hour exercise, Lt. Col. Adam Robinson of the Utah National Guard's 145th Field Artillery Battalion talked about how the drill would better prepare U.S. and South Korean troops for a potential invasion from North Korea.
He stopped short of saying anything provocative about the North, even going as far as suggesting at one point, "We want to have peace."
In doing so, Robinson became the latest in a long line of commanders involved in U.S.-South Korean military exercises in recent years to shy away from any of the chest-thumping rhetoric that usually accompanies exercises carried out by North Korea's military.
For example, earlier this month during a North Korean drill near the disputed maritime sea border between the two countries, military commanders reportedly warned of a future attack much harsher than one the North launched in 2010 on Yeonpyeong Island, which left four South Koreans dead.
"We only fired a small number of artillery last time, " North Korean Col. Gen. Pyon In Son was quoted as saying. "We will mobilize all our corps' artillery pieces to turn them into a real sea of fire this time."
U.S. Forces Korea spokeswoman Jennifer Buschick said alliance officials see no benefit to getting into a war of words.
"Bellicose rhetoric serves no constructive purpose, does not contribute to stability in the region and is not in the spirit of the armistice" (which halted Korean War hostilities in 1953), she said.
"Our mission is to maintain peace and stability, and to deter aggression on the Korean peninsula, and if that should fail we are prepared to fight and win," Buschick said. "Our training events are transparent, defense-oriented and designed to increase readiness to defend (South Korea)."
The U.S. and South Korea are in the midst of Foal Eagle, the alliance's largest military exercise of the year, which runs from March 1 to April 30, and involves as many as 200,000 South Korean troops and approximately 11,000 U.S. forces, most of whom will travel to the peninsula specifically for the exercise.
That was the case Thursday as the 145th traveled from Utah just days in advance of the exercise, during which U.S. Paladin M-109A6s and South Korean K-55s lined up side-by-side and fired in the direction of Rodriquez Range from an off-base staging area.
Robinson said the exercise showed that his battalion was prepared to deploy quickly from the U.S. and join with a South Korean unit - in this case the 628th Field Artillery Battalion - "to prepare for a possible invasion if that happens."
Asked what, if any, message the exercise might send to North Korea, he said, "That we can work together; that we are united; that we can train together and that we're ready to fight together.
"We have learned much from them, and they from us, and we will be better prepared if, in case, something happens," Robinson said.