Off the coast of the Korean peninsula, the U.S. Navy serves as an immense show of force in the face of North Korean aggression, but they’re not the only U.S. forces in the region that Kim Jong Un should be worried about. America’s 8th Army has a history of service in the Pacific dating back to 1944, and its commanding general, Lt. Gen. Thomas S. Vandal, wants to make it clear that his troops are ready for a fight should North Korea want to bring them one.
At a symposium last month, Vandal offered a number of reassurances to the United States and South Korean people, explaining that his command is not just about training with our international counterparts in the region, it’s about winning wars. His unit, he explained, is unlike any other an enemy like North Korea has faced before, as his troops aren’t just training alongside their South Korean counterparts, they are rapidly working to integrate forces in the area to create a streamlined layer of command and control while improving cooperation at the ground level.
Lt. Gen. Vandal’s command grants him authority of the Army’s only major combined fighting force: the 2nd Infantry Division/Republic of Korea-U.S. Combined Division, or RUCD.
“Today, hand-picked, [South Korean] officers, the best of the best, are an integral part of the staff,” he said. “Now, we’re adding [South Korean] staff noncommissioned officers as well.”
Vandal’s combined division doesn’t only see partnerships in leadership roles, but it also trains extensively alongside the 8th Republic of Korea Infantry Division, who Vandal’s soldiers would find themselves fighting alongside in the event of a North Korean invasion.
“Eighth Army is going to become a combined ground component command that will be established in 2018,” he said, noting that he will then become the deputy ground component commander, working for a South Korean four-star general.
Beyond this infantry integration effort, Vandal said, a parallel effort to combine forces and skill sets is ongoing in the Weapons of Mass Destruction Elimination Task Force. That task force will be operationally controlled by either his RUCD or by the 17th Republic of Korea Infantry, and will see U.S. provided technology and maneuver forces working in unison with South Korean infantry soldiers. This combination, according to the general is all about “providing the synergy of the best of both nations’ armies.”
As one of the few American military forces permanently placed near the border of a historically unfriendly nation, Vandal’s troops constantly prepare for the possibility of conflict. “I would say our exercise [operations tempo] is the highest in the Army,” Vandal said, “and the reason I say that is because we must be ready to fight tonight.”
But his troops aren’t only undergoing regular training, they’re participating in some of the largest military exercises the American Army conducts. Operation Key Resolve, which takes place each March, and Ulchi Freedom Guardian, or UFG, held each August, both see huge levels of involvement from American military assets and South Korea. The UFG sees nearly 400,000 South Korean participants alone, 40,000 of which are direct military assets. The rest of the personnel come from all levels of South Korean leadership, all the way up to the presidential cabinet.
“It’s a whole-of-government approach to their national security and they are all in,” he explained. “They’re probably the largest exercises in the U.S. Army.”
According to Vandal, through a combination of integrated forces in the region and the adoption of the Multidomain Battle concept championed by Gen. David G. Perkins, commander at the U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command earlier this month, his forces are uniquely suited to not only protect U.S. assets in the Pacific, but to defeat the enemy swiftly.
“The piece that needs to be worked harder is the cyber and the space integration to make all five domains integrated. That’s the way ahead,” Vandal added.
Moving to address his troops in the 8th Army, Vandal emphasized, “the center of gravity in Korea is the alliance, and each one of us has a responsibility, from private to general officer, to help nurture that alliance.”
“We do it through combined training. We do it through relationship building. We do it through community interaction. So collectively, it helps us build a strong, healthy relationship,” he added.
As far as the general is concerned, that relationship is perfectly summarized by the Korean phrase that the U.S. soldiers have adopted: “Kapshi Kapshida,” he said, which means “Let’s Go Together.”
Image courtesy of the U.S. Army