SEOUL - The U.S. military on Tuesday announced a new policy for troops seeking command sponsorships in South Korea that prioritizes the most-needed jobs and gives commanders wide discretion in deciding who can bring their families.

The revised policy gives commanders “the flexibility to make command sponsorship available to servicemembers that occupy duty positions where continuity would most improve mission readiness,” according to a U.S. Forces Korea news release.

A USFK task force began reviewing its 2-year-old command sponsorship policy last month because of the high demand for those slots, which are limited in number by a infrastructure at bases around the peninsula, particularly schools.

For years, troops on unaccompanied tours have brought their families with them to South Korea without command sponsorship, meaning servicemembers are forced to pay out of their own pocket for living expenses, including housing. Those troops are allowed to apply for command sponsorships after arriving in South Korea, but the waiting list for such slots has grown exponentially in the last two years.

Approximately 940 troops were on the waiting list as of Nov. 24, military officials said.

The new three-tiered priority system announced Tuesday is designed to let troops know how likely they are to receive command sponsorship, Maj. Gen. Larry Wells, USFK deputy chief of staff, said Tuesday.

“Today you can sit on the list and not know how long it will take or what the odds are of getting a slot,” he said. But commanders will be contacting everyone on the waiting list in next two weeks to tell them if they will get a command sponsored slot, or what priority they will have on the list, he said.

Commanders must also hold town hall meetings by Dec. 10 to explain the new priority system.

The new policy is designed to allow more visibility and transparency in the process of who gets command sponsorships, Wells said. Slots are distributed among the branches of service: 3,700 for the Army, 700 for the Air Force, 150 for the Navy and 50 for the Marines.

Approximately 10 percent of command sponsorships will be filled from Priority 1, a group that includes key leadership billets who are automatically stationed in South Korea for two years with or without their families. The largest chunk — 80 percent — will be filled from Priority 2, which includes those with skills that are critical to mission requirements and those whose jobs require specialized training.

The last 10 percent will come from Priority 3, made up mostly of enlisted troops in low in-demand jobs. Commanders will be able to consider factors including recent deployments, consecutive overseas tours and whether a servicemember is part of a dual military family when filling Priority 3 slots, according to the release.

Wells said the priority system is designed so that commanders cannot show favoritism in giving command sponsorships: Commanders are required to brief USFK commander Gen. Walter Sharp every three months on how sponsorships are being allocated. While no formal appeals process is in place for those who feel they have been unfairly denied a command sponsorship, Wells said they can request a review by their chain of command.

The priority system will be in place for the foreseeable future.

The number of command-sponsored billets — which has more than doubled from 1,800 to 4,400 since 2008 — closely is tied to the expansion of U.S. Army Garrison-Humphreys, slated to become one of two hubs for the U.S. military on the peninsula later this decade. Military officials hope eventually to allow 14,000 U.S. troops to bring their families with them.

Wells said military officials also are studying whether to let command sponsorships at Kunsan Air Base, where no troops are allowed to bring families because of the base’s limited infrastructure, and are expected to announce a recommendation next summer.

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