Timely move to mas­sive U.S. gar­ri­son in S. Korea

The Washington Post Sunday - - FRONT PAGE - BY ANNA FIFIELD

camp humphreys, south korea — This small Amer­i­can city has four schools and five churches, an Arby’s, a Taco Bell and a Burger King. The gro­cery store is of­fer­ing a deal on Bud­weiser as the tem­per­a­ture soars, and out front there’s a pro­mo­tion for Ford Mus­tangs.

But for all its in­vo­ca­tions of the Amer­i­can heart­land, this grow­ing town is in the mid­dle of the South Korean coun­try­side, in an area that was fa­mous for grow­ing huge grapes.

“We built an en­tire city from scratch,” said Col. Scott W. Mueller, gar­ri­son com­man­der of Camp Humphreys, one of the U.S. mil­i­tary’s largest over­seas con­struc­tion projects. If it were laid across Wash­ing­ton, the 3,454-acre base would stretch from Key Bridge to

Na­tion­als Park, from Ar­ling­ton Na­tional Ceme­tery to the Capi­tol.

“New York has been a city for 100-some years, and they’re still do­ing con­struc­tion. But the ma­jor­ity of con­struc­tion here will be done by 2021,” Mueller said. (New York was ac­tu­ally founded nearly 400 years ago.)

The U.S. mil­i­tary has been try­ing for 30 years to move its head­quar­ters in South Korea out of Seoul and out of North Korean ar­tillery range.

Since the end of World War II, the mil­i­tary has been based at Yongsan, a gar­ri­son that had been the Im­pe­rial Ja­panese Army’s main base dur­ing Ja­pan’s oc­cu­pa­tion of the Korean Penin­sula. It is in the mid­dle of Seoul and just 40 miles from the de­mil­i­ta­rized zone that sep­a­rates the two Koreas.

The South Korean and Amer­i­can gov­ern­ments have been talk­ing since 1987 about mov­ing the head­quar­ters away from Yongsan, but po­lit­i­cal and fund­ing is­sues had slowed the process. Protests broke out a lit­tle over a decade ago when Pyeong­taek, a sleepy ru­ral city 40 miles south of Yongsan, was cho­sen as the new site.

Now, the $11 bil­lion base is be­gin­ning to look like the gar­ri­son that mil­i­tary plan­ners en­vis­aged decades ago.

The 8th Army moved its head­quar­ters here this month, and there are about 25,000 peo­ple based here, in­clud­ing fam­ily mem­bers and con­trac­tors.

There are apart­ment build­ings, sports fields, play­grounds and a wa­ter park, and an 18-hole golf course with the gen­er­als’ houses over­look­ing the greens. There is a “war­rior zone” with Xboxes and Playsta­tions, pool ta­bles and dart boards, and a tav­ern for those old enough to drink.

Start­ing in Au­gust, there will be two el­e­men­tary schools, a mid­dle school and a high school. A new, 68-bed mil­i­tary hos­pi­tal to re­place the one at Yongsan is close to com­ple­tion.

That is in ad­di­tion to the air­field, tank train­ing ar­eas and fir­ing ranges.

When it is fin­ished, the base will be able to house pre­cisely 1,111 fam­i­lies and a to­tal of about 45,500 peo­ple.

But it’s not just big­ger; it’s much more mod­ern than the gar­ri­son at Yongsan, Mueller said. It has state-of-the-art com­mu­ni­ca­tions tech­nol­ogy and is a more “hard­ened” site to pro­tect against a pos­si­ble North Korean at­tack.

“Down here we’re a lit­tle bit fur­ther from the ac­tion, and that helps buy us some strate­gic de­ci­sion space should any­thing hap- pen,” Mueller said. “We’ve been able to cre­ate the fa­cil­i­ties needed to keep up with the pace of mod­ern war­fare and mod­ern com­mu­ni­ca­tions tech­nol­ogy.”

Al­though the re­cent con­cerns about North Korea have cen­tered on its rapidly evolv­ing bal­lis­tic mis­sile ca­pa­bil­ity, the Kim regime has a huge amount of con­ven­tional ar­tillery lined up on its side of the bor­der that would be able to in­flict sig­nif­i­cant dam­age on Seoul in a short time. It is this con­cern that has re­strained Amer­i­can pres­i­den­tial ad­min­is­tra­tions from launch­ing a pre­emp­tive strike on North Korea’s nu­clear weapons fa­cil­i­ties.

But the new Camp Humphreys is out of range of the North’s mul­ti­ple rocket launch­ers — al­though that hasn’t stopped the North Kore­ans from mak­ing threats.

“The larger the U.S. mil­i­tary base is, the more ef­fec­tively our mil­i­tary can hit its tar­gets,” a North Korean mil­i­tary spokesman said this month af­ter the 8th Army moved here, ac­cord­ing to the North’s Korean Cen­tral News Agency.

Un­der an agree­ment with the South Korean mil­i­tary, one U.S. Army bri­gade will re­main at Camp Casey, right near the DMZ, af­ter the Yongsan gar­ri­son has closed.

The con­struc­tion of Camp Humphreys had raised hopes for the lo­cal econ­omy, which had not ex­actly been flour­ish­ing be­fore the area was selected for the gar­ri­son.

Lo­cal au­thor­i­ties have built a $13 mil­lion train sta­tion and a new four-lane high­way bridge, and in­vested $55 mil­lion in a new sub­sta­tion to de­liver power to the base. The main roads in Pyeong­taek are lined with new apart­ment tow­ers.

Im­me­di­ately out­side the base, lo­cal busi­nesses are vy­ing to prove how pro-Amer­i­can they are. There are dozens of real es­tate agen­cies with Amer­i­can flags on their win­dows and names such as “Komer­i­can Realty.” One of the new hous­ing de­vel­op­ments out­side the base is called “Lin­coln Palace,” an­other “Capi­tolium.” The park­ing spa­ces in the de­vel­op­ments are big­ger, to fit Amer­i­can cars.

There are res­tau­rants of­fer­ing all-you-can-eat Korean meat din­ner buf­fets for $11, Tex-Mex joints and even a Hoot­ers knock­off. The bar­ber­shop of­fers flat­tops and “skin fade” cuts, and there are other ser­vices you don’t find in an av­er­age South Korean town, such as “All African Amer­i­can Caribbean style” hair braid­ing.

Be­cause sol­diers be­low the rank of staff sergeant are not al­lowed to drive in South Korea, even off base, young Amer­i­cans on bi­cy­cles rigged with small mo­tors sput­ter through the streets.

But there is a sense of frus­tra­tion that the base hasn’t pro­duced a gold rush.

“Busi­ness is so-so,” said Suh Hee-yeon, the owner of one U.S. Forces Korea-ap­proved real es­tate agency on the main drag, which of­fers hous­ing for those who will live out­side the base. She has been here for a decade and doesn’t wel­come the new firms that have ar­rived as the gar­ri­son gets closer to com­ple­tion. “There’s too much com­pe­ti­tion now, and we have to share the lim­ited amount of busi­ness,” she said.

Some here worry about in­creased crime and that Amer­i­can sol­diers will be on the prowl for lo­cal women. The U.S. Army has de­vel­oped an app so troops can check which bars have been

“Down here we’re a lit­tle bit fur­ther from the ac­tion, and that helps buy us some strate­gic de­ci­sion space should any­thing hap­pen.” Col. Scott W. Mueller, gar­ri­son com­man­der of Camp Humphreys

deemed off-lim­its, ei­ther be­cause they’ve been caught serv­ing drinks to minors or be­cause they’re sell­ing sex.

Oth­ers com­plain that the new ar­rivals don’t learn Korean and ex­pect lo­cal store own­ers to speak English.

But worse is the fear that sol­diers just won’t pa­tron­ize their busi­nesses.

“They rarely come out from their bases,” said Park Jong-ho, who has run a shoe shop here for the past three years. “They have every­thing they need there on the base.”

ED JONES/AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE VIA GETTY IM­AGES

Sol­diers of the 1st Ar­mored Bri­gade Com­bat Team take part in a trans­fer-of-author­ity cer­e­mony at Camp Humphreys last month. The $11 bil­lion base, un­like the 8th Army’s long­time head­quar­ters in Seoul, is out of range of North Korea’s mul­ti­ple rocket launch­ers.

THE WASH­ING­TON POST Source: 38 North, Nau­tilus In­sti­tute for Se­cu­rity and Sus­tain­abil­ity, U.S. Army

Py­ongyang Sari­won Kok­san 500 ar­tillery pieces, in­clud­ing a 300mm gun with a range of 44 miles In­cheon Tong­chon Osan U.S. Air Force base New U.S. mil­i­tary gar­ri­son Yel­low Sea NORTH KOREA Tidal Basin H H H Na­tion­als Park H Sea of Ja­pan Sea of Ja­pan U.S. Capi­tol Ar­ling­ton Na­tional Ceme­tery White House Lin­coln Memo­rial The de­mil­i­ta­rized zone is a 2.5-mile-wide strip of land bi­sect­ing the Korean Penin­sula. SOUTH KOREA Kaesong area Seoul De­tail Pyeong­taek 25 MILES Ex­ten­sion of Pyeong­taek base com­pared to Wash­ing­ton 1/2 MILE

EURO­PEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY VIA YON­HAP NEWS AGENCY

A statue hon­ors Gen. Wal­ton Walker, 8th Army com­mand­ing gen­eral in the Korean War.

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