Changed South Korea Duty Tours Aid Combat Readiness

WASHINGTON, April 12, 2011 — Nor­mal­iz­ing U.S. mil­i­tary duty tours in South Korea will increase com­bat readi­ness and great­ly reduce stress for ser­vice mem­bers and their fam­i­lies, the top U.S. mil­i­tary com­man­der in the region told the Sen­ate Armed Ser­vices Com­mit­tee here today.

“A force mul­ti­pli­er, tour nor­mal­iza­tion keeps trained and ready mil­i­tary per­son­nel in place for longer peri­ods of time,” said Army Gen. Wal­ter “Skip” Sharp, com­man­der of Unit­ed Nations Com­mand, Com­bined Forces Com­mand and U.S. Forces Korea. “It improves readi­ness, com­bat capa­bil­i­ty, low­ers tur­bu­lence in units and reduces the stress placed on our troops, units and families.” 

Tour nor­mal­iza­tion in South Korea is an ini­tia­tive the Defense Depart­ment and Sharp have been work­ing on since Decem­ber 2008. The ini­tia­tive increas­es troop tour lengths in South Korea to three years and allows their fam­i­lies to accom­pa­ny them. 

The ini­tia­tive is part of the Strate­gic Alliance 2015 agree­ment that hands over wartime oper­a­tional con­trol on the Kore­an Penin­su­la to the South Korea mil­i­tary in Decem­ber 2015. The agree­ment also calls for U.S. forces to repo­si­tion to two endur­ing hubs under the Yongsan Relo­ca­tion Plan and Land Part­ner­ship Plan. 

Repo­si­tion­ing U.S. forces “real­izes sta­tion­ing effi­cien­cies and sig­nals a con­tin­ued Amer­i­can com­mit­ment to defense of Korea and the engage­ment,” Sharp said. “Resta­tion­ing also enhances force pro­tec­tion and survivability.” 

Cur­rent­ly, 4,400 mil­i­tary fam­i­lies are in South Korea on com­mand-spon­sored tours. About 12,000 fam­i­lies will be there once tour nor­mal­iza­tion is ful­ly imple­ment­ed by the end of 2015. 

“I think every­one is aware of the impor­tance of tour nor­mal­iza­tion, with the increase of the readi­ness that it brings to our units that are over there; with the fact that it does show our com­mit­ment, which is a great deter­rent val­ue to North Korea,” the gen­er­al said. 

Sharp said the tour nor­mal­iza­tion plan he will present this week to Defense Sec­re­tary Robert M. Gates will be “an afford­able plan to get to full tour nor­mal­iza­tion.” How­ev­er, he acknowl­edged, the duty tour initiative’s ini­tial costs for mov­ing an addi­tion­al 10,000 fam­i­lies and com­pen­sat­ing troops’ hous­ing needs will not be cheap. 

“We are look­ing at many dif­fer­ent options in order to be able to reduce the costs, and look­ing at many dif­fer­ent options as far as how long it will take,” Sharp said. 

U.S. Depart­ment of Defense
Office of the Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of Defense (Pub­lic Affairs) 

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