US troops in South Korea exercise during holiday season
RODRIGUEZ RANGE, South Korea — While families back home decorate trees and wrap presents, soldiers from the 2nd Armored Brigade Combat Team have spent the holiday season blasting range targets near the Korean demilitarized zone.
More than 4,500 soldiers from the unit, known as the 2nd “Black Jack” Brigade, have been deployed to the peninsula since June as part of a program that replaced the Camp Hovey-based 1st Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Infantry Division with U.S.-based units on nine-month rotational deployments.
Early next year, they will change out with their sister 1st Cavalry Division unit, the 1st Armored Brigade Combat Team.
Bradley Fighting Vehicles maneuvered to firing positions and shot at moving mechanical targets earlier this month at the Rodriguez Range, about 15 miles from the DMZ that separates North and South Korea, while infantry from 2nd Brigade’s 1st Battalion, 5th Cavalry Regiment stormed a fortified hillside protected by a wire obstacle that they destroyed with Bangalore explosives.
The training, which is geared toward fighting a conventional battle, is one of several things that makes this deployment different to the sort of overseas missions that brigades have been going on to places like Iraq and Afghanistan in recent years, according to 1-5 commander Lt. Col. Paul Krattiger.
“For one thing, nobody is shooting at us,” he said.
1st Lt. Jared McGuire, 24, of Edmonton, Okla., said his first overseas mission isn’t what he expected.
As an infantryman, he thought he would participate in counter-insurgency missions. However, the focus here is on being ready to fight a conventional war, he said.
Sgt. 1st Class Jesse Todd, 37, Georgetown, Texas, said a difference between the Korea mission and other recent deployments is the quality of the local national forces with whom the Americans work.
Republic of Korea Army troops are on par with U.S. forces, while Iraqi and Afghan forces require extensive mentoring, he said.
Krattiger echoed Todd’s assessment of the ROK army. He added that his men can get four-day passes and head to Seoul to experience the local culture or go skiing or snowboarding — the sort of activities that troops in Iraq or Afghanistan can only dream of.
“But nine months away from home is nine months away from home,” said Krattiger, who has spent previous Christmases deployed to Bosnia, Iraq and Afghanistan.
This week, the battalion finished its gunnery practice and spent the last few days before Christmas cleaning and maintaining its equipment, he said.
The soldiers will get a short break over the holidays, and a few even have relatives coming to visit them. But all must be prepared to report to base within a few hours in an emergency, Krattiger said.