Rotational units in South Korea boost readiness, unit cohesion
SEOUL, South Korea — Sending rotational forces to South Korea improves combat readiness and unit stability, according to the commander of a battalion stationed for nine months near the Demilitarized Zone.
“I think this provides the Army with a better option,” said Lt. Col. Arthur Sellers, commander of the 1st Battalion, 12th Cavalry Regiment, which is handing over its mission this month to the 3rd Battalion, 8th Cavalry Regiment, 3rd Brigade Combat Team.
The Fort Hood, Texas-based 1-12 CAV is part of the Army’s growing use of deploying intact units to South Korea, where troops are typically stationed on individual one- to two-year tours, leading to frequent turnover within units.
As his unit prepares for its departure, Sellers said preparing for the deployment as a unit at the National Training Center, setting leadership roles and not having to worry about having to replace individual soldiers during the deployment made the unit’s time in South Korea easier.
“It allowed us to reach a level of proficiency and maintain it by not changing out our people,” he said.
Sellers previously served as a company commander at Camp Casey, where, during a 19-month period, 20 different lieutenants worked for him due to the high turnover.
“Despite the huge amount of pride that I had in my company and my unit, the rotation of individuals is just something that is constantly a struggle,” he said. “You’re doing a lot of the same things over more than you have to in a standard unit.”
Last year, the U.S. military also announced a nine-month deployment of the 4th Squadron, 6th Cavalry Regiment from Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash., to Camp Humphreys. The air reconnaissance squadron includes about 380 soldiers and 30 OH-58D Kiowa Warrior helicopters.
At the time, Adm. Samuel Locklear, then-head of the U.S. Pacific Command, told a Washington news conference that the decision to send a rotational armored unit was prompted by concerns over how to best maintain capabilities on the peninsula, not by changes in the tactical or strategic environment.
The 1-12 CAV arrived in January and brought with it some 800 soldiers, and approximately 40 MIA2 Abrams tanks and 40 M2A3 Bradleys.
While in South Korea, the 1-12 CAV has essentially been responsible for setting the stage for follow-on battalions.
When the battalion arrived at Camps Stanley and Hovey, it had to transform vacant facilities, some of which had been unoccupied for years, into functional barracks, offices and motor pools.
“The first 60 to 90 days, it was just a herculean effort to get that up and running,” Sellers said.
He said being sent to Korea from Fort Hood was a surprise, and “definitely a different kind of deployment for commanders and NCOs” who have previously served in Afghanistan or Iraq.
One of the biggest differences from Middle East deployments, he said, was working with a professional, peer army that “can pretty much do the same thing that we can do ... as opposed to somebody that we’re in charge of training. That really resonated with some of my younger NCOs who had deployed maybe once or twice to Iraq or Afghanistan.”
While in South Korea, soldiers trained on restricted, urban terrain that was far different from the open spaces at Fort Hood and the NTC, and had more access to aviation assets.
Lt. Col. Elliott Rogers, commander of the incoming battalion, said the 800 soldiers — including seasoned NCOs and young soldiers straight out of basic training — spent about 60 days training at Fort Hood in preparation for the deployment. The unit’s mission of providing mobile protective firepower will remain the same.
“I think we’re going to get a great opportunity to train,” he said. “Right now, given fiscal constraints, if a combined arms battalion had an opportunity to train like we will, that’s always a bonus.”