As North Korea in­ten­si­fies mis­sile pro­gram, US opens $11 bil­lion base in South Korea

Woonsocket Call - - Na­tion/world - 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 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 hap­pen,” 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.

U.S. Army photo

A pub­lic af­fairs of­fi­cer for the 35th US Air De­fense Ar­tillery Bri­gade, ex­plains the Pa­triot mis­sile sys­tem to Re­pub­lic of Korea air force cadets dur­ing their visit to Osan Air Base, South Korea.

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