Soldiers of Army battalion Task Force Hawkins participate near the M2A2 Bradley Fighting Vehicles during a live fire drill for the joint U.S.-South Korean military exercises Key Resolve/Foal Eagle 2009 at Rodriguez Range in Pocheon, South Korea, on March 16. (Lee Jin-man / The Associated Press)
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A construction boom in family facilities and plans for assignment incentive pay are part of the push for soldiers to serve two- and three-year tours in South Korea.
Soldiers now can serve 24- or 36-month accompanied tours at most installations in Korea. The program applies to officers and enlisted soldiers of all ranks, from private through colonel, who are placed on orders to Korea, as well as those troops already serving in-country.
The Army's Human Resources Command recently issued service-specific guidelines for the new rules approved by the Defense Department in late 2008.
Areas eligible for the new assignment policies include the garrison communities of Yongsan (Seoul), Humphries, Daegu and Red Cloud.
"Our goal is to normalize tours in Korea … to make them similar to what is now available [three-year accompanied tours] in Japan, Germany and elsewhere," said Gen. Walter L. Sharp, commander of U.S. Forces Korea.
The increase in command sponsorship "is only the first step towards tour normalization," he said.
Sharp said the changing tour policies are linked to plans to relocate Eighth Army units at Yongsan Garrison in Seoul and bases in the 2nd Infantry Division area to Camp Humphries in or around 2012.
A plan is in the works that would allow soldiers who elect the 36-month accompanied tour option to receive $300 monthly in assignment incentive pay. The Army staff at the Pentagon is drafting the plan.
A companion proposal would authorize $300 in monthly AIP for accompanied soldiers serving 24-month tours in the Area 1 locations of Dongducheon, including Camps Casey, Hovey, Castle and Mobile, and Uijongbu, including Camps Red Cloud, Stanley and Jackson.
Construction projects are now about 25 percent complete at Humphries to provide a full range of support to families, including housing, schools and facilities for medical care and morale, welfare and recreation programs, Sharp said.
To serve accompanied tours, soldiers must request command sponsorship when they are placed on overseas orders or alerted for reassignment.
Once they are placed on Korea orders, they will receive a briefing at their home station during which they may apply for dependent travel and command sponsorship, McKnight said.
Commanders in Korea have final approval authority for such requests.
Command sponsorship packets are reviewed by several agencies, focusing on housing and other support facilities, said Capt. Kelly Goodrich, 8th Army liaison officer at HRC.
"They will try very hard to get the soldier's family over there, and may even [reroute] a soldier to another location where the required facilities are available," she said.
"The commands must provide strong justification for not approving a command sponsorship request," Goodrich said.
Even with approval, there are no guarantees that soldiers and their families will be at the same location.
McKnight said if the Korea commands cannot base a soldier and his family at the same location, soldiers may request an exception to policy that will allow them to serve at a separate location from their family.
For example, a soldier's duty assignment might be at Camp Red Cloud in Area 1, but his family will live at an Army housing area in Seoul.
Soldiers and families will be scheduled for concurrent or nonconcurrent travel, based on the availability of housing at their Korea assignment location.
In addition to government-sponsored travel, Army families approved for command sponsorship are eligible for the shipment of one privately owned vehicle (two for dual-military couples) and household goods at 50 percent of weight allowance.
Also, they are eligible for government housing, the dependent school system, the use of commissaries and post exchanges, an overseas housing allowance, a dislocation allowance, medical and dental care, and the use of morale, welfare and recreation facilities.
Only five locations remain restricted to 12-month, unaccompanied tours. These installations are all in Area 1 north of Seoul. They are small, isolated and do not have the facilities to provide family support, according to Tom McKnight, deputy for plans and policies in the operations directorate of the Human Resources Command.
Eventually the units assigned to these remote posts will be brought under the command sponsorship policy as they are moved out of Area 1 to newly constructed facilities south of Seoul.
Personnel managers emphasize that soldiers should not view the new policies as an opportunity to homestead in Korea and avoid deployment to Iraq or Afghanistan.
While it is Army policy to stabilize soldiers for the entire length of their designated tour in Korea, HRC assignment branches will closely manage all soldiers to ensure they pull their fair share of duty in the combat theaters.
"It's called ‘tour equity,' " said Col. Jeff Leib, director of the officer division that manages maneuver, fires and effects officers.
Leib said the chances are slim that Korea tour extensions beyond 36 months will be approved for soldiers who have not pulled duty in theater.
Korea duty is career-enhancing for officers and enlisted soldiers, HRC assignment managers said in interviews with Army Times.
One reason is that soldiers can hone war-fighting skills associated with their branch, according to Leib, chief of the Maneuver, Fires and Effects Division.
"I am an artilleryman by trade," Leib said, "and the great thing about going to Korea is that it allows you to focus on fire mission processing, and things of that nature.
"Now, there have been a lot of artillery missions going on in-theater, but duty in Iraq and Afghanistan just doesn't allow you to do the things you can in Korea," he said. "These type of [basic branch] opportunities are available across the board in Korea, whether it's infantry, field artillery, armor, aviation or whatever."
Maj. Dwight Domengeaux, assignment officer for senior Armor captains, said, "The thing about duty in Korea — and I've served two company commander tours there — is that you do the mission every day."
Lt. Col. John Lindsay, chief of HRC's officer aviation branch, said pilots will have a similar experience.
"You'll be able to fly from coast to coast, train throughout the country in full-spectrum operations. Korea is one of the only places in the Army where you can do that," he said.