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Two news items caught my eye this weekend, both of them in Stars and Stripes. One story was from Korea, and the other from Germany. Together, they told a story of rebalancing our forces in the world.
The first story is about the activation of a group of new Army Reserve units in Europe. This was a growth in the total number of units or end strength in the Army Reserve. Instead, this was a relatively typical rebalancing of types of units in different parts of the world.
It may seem odd to you to hear of Army Reserve units based in Germany, but this has long been so. There is a very small full-time staff, then unit members either fly in from the States or fly/rail/drive from their American expat civilian jobs in Europe. I had a War College classmate, a native-born American citizen, who lived with his Finnish wife and kids in Finland, working for a tech company. He drilled in Germany.
What is really newsworthy is the why: “Army activates new units in Europe to support Poland.”
KAISERSLAUTERN, Germany — The Army Reserve activated seven new units this week, including a regional support group capable of supporting thousands of soldiers such as those in Poland, where troops are deployed to deter Russian activities.
Col. Scott K. Thomson, deputy commander of the 7th Mission Support Command, presided over the activation ceremony for the 510th Regional Support Group and six subordinate units at U.S. Army Garrison Rheinland-Pfalz, Sembach Kaserne.
The brigade-level command and headquarters can support base camp operations for 6,000 or more soldiers in-theater, such as the more than 4,500 troops deployed on a rotational basis at about half a dozen bases in Poland, the Army said.
The kind of units being activated, with a Regional Support Group as the O-6 (colonel) level headquarters (think “brigade” if that makes more sense to you), give capability to not only conduct logistics support but also to manage real estate, planning out temporary or permanent locations in the field or on concrete and pavement. I used to describe RSGs as “town halls in a box.”
On the other end to the Eurasian landmass, we have a story of jostling between allies, centering on South Korean political posturing: “Pressured to speed returns, the US military says South Korea can have 15 bases now.”
SEOUL, South Korea — The U.S. military wants to set the record straight as it faces South Korean pressure to expedite the handover of bases as part of a drawn-out relocation plan.
South Korea “recently announced that it desired to expedite the return process of 26 U.S. military installations,” USFK said. “Fifteen of the 26 U.S. military installations, including four sites specifically requested for transfer at the earliest possible date … have been vacated, closed and available for transfer to the (South Korean) government.”
However, the transition process has been slow in large part because of disputes over dealing with polluted soil and other environmental concerns as the land is returned. The status of forces agreement between the two countries essentially throws the burden of paying for any clean-up on South Korea.
South Koreans have long been eager to regain control of Yongsan, which was originally on the outskirts of an impoverished Seoul but has become prime real estate since the South Korean capital has grown into one of Asia’s most prosperous cities.
The tree-lined base is expected to eventually be transformed into a park similar to New York City’s Central Park.
You can see the internal conflicts for South Korean politicians. They face pressure to get the land into Korean developers’ and city officials’ hands. Yet, they own the environmental clean-up bill and President Trump is the last guy to go asking for a change in the contract if it hits America’s wallet.
This is all perfectly normal politics and perfectly respectable defense policy in action. Actually, the shift of planned logistics support towards Poland (and the border countries by implication) are a serious counter move, without high drama, in the European power game. Tucker and Ingraham would fume, and Hannity would squeal in delight, if we were talking an Armored Brigade Combat Team. Yet, such units can’t move more than a day without serious external logistic support. These two stories are about serious defense planning.