KATUSA program key to enduring partnership between U.S. and Republic of Korea

Base Info
Sgt. Johnston Albert Jr. (right) and Cpl. Il Shin Kim, both from the 501st Special Troops Battalion, 501st Sustainment Brigade, demonstrate basic lifesaving skills to U.S. and KATUSA Soldiers during Sergeant's Time Training in October 2014 on Yongsan Garrison, Republic of Korea. (Photo Credit: US Army photo by Jonathan (Jay) Koester)
Sgt. Johnston Albert Jr. (right) and Cpl. Il Shin Kim, both from the 501st Special Troops Battalion, 501st Sustainment Brigade, demonstrate basic lifesaving skills to U.S. and KATUSA Soldiers during Sergeant's Time Training in October 2014 on Yongsan Garrison, Republic of Korea. (Photo Credit: US Army photo by Jonathan (Jay) Koester)

KATUSA program key to enduring partnership between U.S. and Republic of Korea

by: Tim Oberle, Eighth Army Public Affairs | .
U.S. Army | .
published: March 23, 2015

SEOUL, Republic of Korea - Later this year in June, the U.S. and the Republic of Korea (ROK) will commemorate 65 years of partnership since both nations first amalgamated in June 1950 as the US-ROK Alliance (the Alliance) to repel the invasion by the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK).

It didn't take long for the partnership to achieve success and in 1953 an Armistice was signed bringing an end to the hostilities of the Korean War, but leaving the two neighboring nations in a de-facto state of war.

As the Alliance continued to thrive over the last six and a half decades various explanations have been proffered for the almost inexplicable sustained success between two nations separated by almost 7,000 miles who couldn't be more dissimilar in terms of language, culture and customs.

Some of the more common justifications for the long-term viability of the Alliance include the deterrent effect that the aggregation of forces presents, while other pundits point to the international political legitimacy a partnership with the U.S. inevitably brings with it.

The U.S. National Security Strategy deems both rationales as plausible stating that, "Alliances are force multipliers: through multinational cooperation and coordination, the sum of our actions is always greater than if we act alone."

But if those were the only reasons behind the success of the partnership then why hasn't the Alliance witnessed the same or similar strategic-level frictions that have often plagued America's multilateral coalition efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan or even those that the North Atlantic Treaty Organization has faced during their almost 66-year multilateral Alliance? After all, building cohesion, whether strategic, operational or tactical, is not easy, even among the closest of allies.

Further analysis of the partnership between the U.S. and the ROK under a utilitarian lens raises questions as to what, or who, paved the way to breach this cultural divide and solidified the unbreakable bond that serves as a cornerstone of what many consider to be the world's strongest Alliance?

To find the answer one must go back to the very beginning of the partnership during the Korean War where almost serendipitously, the solution arose out of necessity when it became apparent to U.S. and ROK military leadership of a dire need for an intermediary to improve synchronization and interoperability to repel the rapidly advancing forces from the North.

During a brief meeting to discuss the status of the war, then Korean President Lee, Syngman met with U.S. Gen. Douglas MacArthur and the result was an informal agreement to establish a program where Korean Soldiers would augment U.S. forces.

"In early August, the U.S. Army made the Korean Augmentation to the United States Army (KATUSA) program official, absorbing approximately 30,000 to 40,000 Korean Soldiers to integrate with U.S. combat units," said Kim, Yun Sik, Professor, University of Maryland University College, Yongsan Garrison.

"At first the KATUSAs were untrained and ineffective as Soldiers, however as the war stabilized the bilingual translation skills of the KATUSAs proved invaluable and their duties expanded to scouting, intelligence, guarding prisoners of war and assisting refugees through interpretation."

As the war came to a close the program was deemed such a tremendous success that the Korean government extended it beyond the Armistice and today the KATUSA program is stronger than ever.

At its most basic level, the program centers on relationship-building through shared learning experiences and mutual hardships. The time spent between KATUSAs and their American counterparts allow for a deeper appreciation and understanding of Korean culture and indoctrinate U.S. Soldiers into the Korean Theater of Operations.

"As American Soldiers try to (fulfill) their duties they come across many cultural difficulties and they…need a lot of assistance from Koreans," said Chairman Yoon, Yoon Soo, CEO of the Acushnet Company and Chairman of Fila Global. "To achieve our common goal of maintaining defense and deterrence on the Korean Peninsula you have to work together… to be in a position to understand each other better."

"As augmentees to U.S. Soldiers, KATUSAs live in the same barracks, eat in the same mess halls and work in the same offices, so it is a really good opportunity to improve their understanding of (each other)," continued Yoon. "We have to work together to try to keep this country and peninsula free and peaceful."

Eighth Army Commanding General Lt. Gen. Bernard Champoux echoed Yoon's sentiments, but also believes trust at all levels of the Alliance is vital to the coalitions success.

"No other country allows its citizens to serve under the leadership of a foreign military," said Champoux. "Serving alongside our Korean partners provides the language and cultural expertise that are vital to building and maintaining trust at every level of the Alliance."

"We are an enduring team forged in the fire of war more than six decades ago and we are proud to maintain the legacy of the generations of U.S., KATUSAs and ROK Soldiers who have defended liberty together on Freedom's Frontier."

It has been almost 65 years since the KATUSA program was established, and since that time over 450,000 South Koreans having served their country in the program. Throughout its history the program has served as a force multiplier increasing combat readiness for Eighth Army and the US-ROK Alliance and has served as a symbol for the mutual respect and sacrifice shared between both nations.

While the KATUSA program might not be the only reason for the sustained success of the Alliance, it has certainly played a major role in strengthening our combined interoperability and bridging the cultural differences between our two nations.

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