The Eighth U.S. Army, the core of 29,000 American troops stationed in Korea, finally completed the move to its new headquarters in Pyeongtaek on Tuesday. The relocation from the old garrison in Yongsan in central Seoul took decades to complete.
Eighth Army commander Lt. Gen. Thomas Vandal cut the ribbon and said the US10.7-billion project "dramatically increased the size of U.S. Army Garrison Humphreys, making it the largest U.S. Army garrison overseas." He described it as "the crown jewel of overseas installations."
The remaining units will move to Pyeongtaek by the end of this year, with the exception of the Combined Forces Command, which has wartime operational control over more than 600,000 active-duty military personnel in both the U.S. and Korea. The U.S. Second Infantry Division, currently stationed north of Seoul, will move to Pyeongtaek by the end of 2018.
Camp Humphreys is closer to strategic U.S. military installations than Yongsan, including Osan Air Base and port and rail facilities nearby, which makes it easier to coordinate American troop reinforcements in case of war.
◆ Strategic Base
The U.S. Forces Korea showed reporters round the new base on opening day, and it took them around 40 minutes to circle the sprawling compound that measures 14.68 million sq.m of land. That makes it 5.5 times bigger than the financial district of Yeouido in central Seoul. It houses 513 buildings that can accommodate 42,000 people, including 13,000 troops as well as their dependents and non-combat workers.
Since there are more non-combatants than soldiers, the base also contains schools, a hospital, a veterinarian clinic, a movie theater, a swimming pool and a church.
Camp Humphreys is designed as a strategic U.S. military hub in Northeast Asia and has its own railway station to make it easier to transport troop and materiel reinforcements arriving in the southern port city of Busan in any war. The base’s proximity to other key military installations would also make it easier to evacuate American civilian staff in a war.
◆ Decades in the Making
The relocation was a campaign pledge of former President Roh Tae-woo back in 1987. In those heady days of double-digit economic growth in Korea, the U.S. military faced mounting calls from the Korean public to move its main garrison out of the burgeoning capital, where real estate prices were going through the roof amid a massive development boom.
Seoul and Washington signed an agreement in 1990 to relocate the main garrison. A golf course that was part of the Yongsan base was returned to Korea in 1991 and turned into a public park. But conflicts over cost sharing prevented the relocation plan from moving ahead until the leaders of the two countries signed an agreement in 2003 to jump-start stalled efforts.
The ultimate aim was to merge 173 U.S. military installations throughout Korea in Pyeongtaek and two other key installations in Busan and Daegu. But the CFC will remain in Seoul and the 210th Field Artillery Brigade will stay in Dongducheon north of the capital.
Other bases that are not being relocated are the U.S.-Korean military guards stationed in the Joint Security Area of Panmunjom, and Rodriguez firing range in Pocheon north of Seoul.
The relocation is over 90 percent complete, according to the Defense Ministry, and will at this rate be finished by the end of this year.
Apache helicopters sit on the tarmac at Camp Humphreys in Pyeongtaek, Gyeonggi Province on Tuesday
An aerial view of Camp Humphreys in Pyeongtaek, Gyeonggi Province on Tuesday /Yonhap