The 2nd Infantry Division today marks 50 years of continuous service in South Korea even as it undergoes a period of unprecedented change.
"Since 1965, this is probably the most change the division has undergone in a short period of time," said Maj. Gen. Ted Martin, commanding general of the division. "What we're seeing in Korea right now is a confluence of events that are really extremely exciting, interesting and beneficial to both the 2nd Infantry Division but also, more importantly, for the Republic of Korea-U.S. alliance."
In addition to marking its 50th anniversary on the Korean pPeninsula — a milestone that makes the 2nd Infantry the "longest serving forward-deployed division in U.S. Army history," Martin said — the division in June became a combined division by integrating South Korean officers into its staff and on Thursday will inactivate its 1st Armored Brigade Combat Team.
"I can't see any downside to what we're doing," Martin said. "It's an exciting time to be in the division. If you haven't served in Korea, now's the time."
The 2nd Infantry Division's transition has been underway for months as it prepared to inactivate its brigade combat team, receive rotational units from the U.S., and integrate Republic of Korea army officers into its headquarters.
The division officially transformed into a ROK-U.S. combined division structure in June, Martin said.
There are 32 South Korea officers on the division staff now, including a one-star who serves as a deputy division commander, he said. Plans call for as many as 60 ROK officers to serve on the division staff.
The change "seems like an administrative change, but it's a huge build in combat power and capability, especially when operating in the complex environment of the Republic of Korea," Martin said.
The combined division allows both armies to directly coordinate, train and work together, he said.
The division also recently formalized a training association with the ROK army's 16th Brigade, allowing the brigade to work more closely with the Americans. And if the nations have to go to war against North Korea, the 16th Brigade will fall under the operational control of the 2nd Infantry Division.
Rotational MLRS battalion
June also marked the arrival of a multiple launch rocket system battalion in South Korea. About 400 soldiers from 2nd Battalion, 20th Field Artillery Regiment, deployed from Fort Hood, Texas.
The unit is the first rotational MLRS battalion to deploy to Korea, where they joined the 210th Field Artillery Brigade at Camp Casey. The addition of 2nd Battalion, 20th Field Artillery to Korea is part of an Army-wide reorganization to increase the number of MLRS battalions in all field artillery brigades from two to three, increasing theater readiness and maneuver capabilities.
The MLRS is a mobile automatic system that fires surface-to-surface rockets from the M270 and M270A1 weapons platform. Manned by a three-man crew, the system can fire 12 MLSR rockets in less than one minute, according to the Lockheed Martin website.
The arrival of 2nd Battalion, 20th Field Artillery is "another influx of combat power," Martin said. "It gives us really enhanced long-range artillery capability."
1st ABCT cases its colors
On Thursday, the division's Iron Brigade, which has its headquarters at Camp Hovey, will be inactivated. It will be replaced by 2nd BCT, 1st Cavalry Division, of Fort Hood, the first rotational brigade combat team to serve in Korea.
"On one hand, it's a dramatic change for soldiers, and our connection to regiments and brigades and divisions is very important," Martin said. "It's not a minor thing when you have to inactivate a unit."
But the Army in Korea also is receiving a well-trained and ready BCT to take over, he said.
"What you're seeing here is an extreme infusion of combat capability," Martin said about the brigade from the 1st Cavalry Division.
The brigade from Texas has been reorganized under the Army's new BCT structure, so it has three maneuver battalions instead of two, and a brigade engineer battalion that boasts more engineer capability. The brigade also has a reconfigured field artillery unit that has three batteries instead of two.
In addition, the unit has been training together for months, including a rotation at the National Training Center at Fort Irwin, California, Martin said.
In contrast, the Iron Brigade relied on individually deployed soldiers, and it had an 8 percent to 10 percent turnover rate every month, Martin said.
"We were constantly turning to maintain our combat readiness," he said. "We had a very capable unit, but the conditions weren't optimal for maintaining extremely high combat readiness."
Because of its defensive mission on the Korean peninsula, the Iron Brigade had to carefully time and coordinate its inactivation, said Col. Matthew Eichburg, the brigade commander.
The brigade had to turn in 15,000 pieces of equipment and move 4,000 people in the span of about 45 days, he said.
"There's no way we could do it by ourselves," Eichburg said, adding that multiple organizations on post and across the division helped the brigade with its move.
After Thursday's inactivation, a cadre of leaders will remain for about 90 days to make sure the last of the soldiers have moved and all the equipment has been transferred properly, Eichburg said.
When it was first announced that the Iron Brigade was inactivating, there "was a lot of angst, I think," especially among the Army's South Korean partners, Eichburg said.
"People thought if the 1st ABCT is going away, does it mean we're reducing our commitment to Korea?" he said. "That's just not the case."
The brigade from Fort Hood is "extremely capable, and they have a little bit more capability than we did in the way of engineer combat power," Eichburg said. "They're an incredible deterrent."
"I think people are going to quickly find out how good 2/1 CAV is," he said.
As for the Iron Brigade, its colors are scheduled to be uncased at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Washington, in the near future, Martin and Eichburg said.
The legacy of the brigade will continue, Eichburg said.
"This brigade was always ready to do its mission, and it was always ready because it was prepared," he said. "Sometimes it can be tedious, sometimes it can be taxing, but in the end, you're prepared, and if you're prepared, a lot of times you don't have to worry about fighting because not many people are going to want to pick a fight with you."
And while the flag is going away, the brigade's 4,000 soldiers are going to take with them the "fight tonight readiness" lessons they learned and spread them across the Army, Eichburg said.
"There's a mentality that comes along with that, and leaders who leave this brigade will go to other units and help bring that very healthy thought process to those other units," he said.