New Yongsan commander will see start of troop relocations in Korea
SEOUL, South Korea — The new commander of the U.S. military’s largest installation in South Korea will face a daunting task during her two-year tenure: overseeing a significant downsizing of the base under a plan to shift most troops shift to the southern half of the country.
But the declining number of personnel doesn’t mean there will be less to do.
“When the troop levels decrease, our workload increases,” said Col. Maria Eoff, who assumed command in July and, because of the drawdown, is the last O-6 scheduled to command the garrison.
As the base’s long-term population declines, she said the number of personnel could temporarily spike because of the need for workers to handle issues associated with the transition, from providing security and environmental services to maintaining or demolishing empty buildings.
Yongsan, along with other U.S. Forces Korea bases in and north of Seoul, will eventually be turned over to South Korea as part of a long-planned relocation of most Army forces on the peninsula to regional hubs in Daegu and Pyeongtaek. Although a handful of buildings at Yongsan are expected to remain under U.S. control, South Korea plans to turn the 635-acre base into a massive Central Park-like green space.
The relocation has faced multiple delays due to funding and construction problems. The move was initially scheduled to take place in 2008, but was postponed until 2012 and then to 2016. Katherine Hammack, the Army’s assistant secretary for installations, energy and environment, said last spring the $10 billion-plus Camp Humphreys expansion is on track to be completed in 2016-17.
Compounding the logistical difficulties of the drawdown at Yongsan — which, along with other satellite bases in the Seoul area, serves a population of about 28,400 personnel — is not knowing yet how many people will remain once the relocation is done.
Delays in the transformation have also led to concern among the Yongsan population about how the relocation will affect them, including whether their children can complete high school in Seoul.
“We’ve lived in this decade-plus of uncertainty (about the transformation),” she said.
Eoff, the garrison’s first female commander, said she wants to keep the best programs and services for the community during the drawdown, and pledged to be open with the community about the upcoming changes.
“I try to put myself in the shoes of the soldiers and their families,” she said.