The heart of United States Forces Korea is without a doubt Yongsan Garrison, which is appropriately located in the heart of the city that is the at the heart of the entire nation of South Korea, Seoul. Seoul is a vibrant and massive city with a population of over 10 million people. In the middle of this megalopolis is the expansive USFK camp Yongsan Garrison. To put the location of Yongsan Garrison into perspective imagine a 630 acre foreign military base in the middle of Manhattan in New York. That is what Yongsan Garrison in Seoul is.
The camp wasn’t always surrounded by such dense urban sprawl. It originally was originally constructed as an Imperial Japanese Army garrison during the Japanese colonial period of Korea between 1904-1945. In fact some of the older buildings that remain on Yongsan can be dated back to the Japanese colonial period. When the Japanese built the Garrison is was located south of Seoul which was mostly farmland at the time and close to the Han River. The Han River was where boats from the Yellow Sea would travel up the large river to deliver goods to Seoul. This was also convenient for transporting military supplies and personnel as well to the garrison.
Interestingly enough the Yongsan area was actually used even prior to the arrival of the Japanese colonial forces as a military area for foreign armies due to its closeness to the Han River. In the 13th century the area was used as a garrison for the occupying Mongolian Army as well as in the 16th century by the invading Japanese samurai as part of the Hideyoshi invasion of Korea. Prior to the Japanese colonization of Korea in the 20th century the area had been used by the Chinese military as well who set up a headquarters in the Yongsan area in 1882. Due to its foreign military history it is easy to see why many Koreans have mixed feelings about the location of US troops at Yongsan Garrison.
During the colonial period, Yongsan Garrison would remain in Japanese control until it was handed over to the United States military with the surrender of the Japanese Imperial Army at the end of World War II. The garrison was used by US military occupying forces until 1948 and after the withdrawal of the occupying force, the garrison was used by the US military’s Korean Military Advisory Group (KMAG) soldiers that advised and helped train the Republic of Korea (ROK) Army.
In June 1950 with the start of the Korean War, Yongsan Garrison was captured in less then a week by the invading North Korean forces. With the September 1950 land at Incheon by US Forces led by General Douglas MacArthur Yongsan would be recaptured by the US military to only be lost yet again a few months later with the Chinese entry into the war. By March 1951 the US military and their allies had recaptured Seoul and Yongsan Garrison once again from the Chinese. Considering the amount of warfare the garrison saw during the Korean War it is amazing how many of the old Imperial Japanese buildings actually survived the conflict.
After the Korean War, Yongsan Garrison went on to become the home of United States Forces Korea (USFK), the United Nations Command (UNC), the Combined Forces Command (CFC), as well as the home of Eighth United States Army (EUSA). With such commands that are important both militarily as well as diplomatically, Yongsan Garrison is of extreme importance to both the United States and Korea.
Yongsan Garrison Today
Yongsan Garrison is currently home to over 25,000 US military servicemembers, DOD civilian contractors, and their families. In addition approximately 1,000 Korean Augmentees to the US Army (KATUSAs) serve on the compound along with 3,000 Korean civilian employees. Some of the major units stationed on Yongsan or its satellite camps are USFK headquarters, 8th US Army headquarters, 18th Medical Command, 121 General Hospital, 175th Finance, Armed Forces Network Korea, Corps of Engineers Far East District, 1st Signal Brigade, and the 501st Military Intelligence to name a few.
Yongsan Garrison is currently considered one of the top installations in the entire US Army by recently receiving third place in the Army Communities of Excellence competition. The recognition is well deserved considering the excellent facilities on the post. The post is divided into North and South Posts which are divided by a wide Korean public road. In recent years an overpass was constructed over this road to allow vehicles to drive from each side of the garrison without having to exit on to the Korean road.
As I said before the facilities on the post are excellent. Yongsan has one of the biggest Post Exchanges I have ever seen and a massive commissary stocked with every type of American food you can think of. The post has most of the popular fast food restaurants as well as fine dining at restaurants located at the four star hotel the Dragon Hill Lodge on south post. The post’s Navy Club also continues to be a popular attraction on the compound.
An important difference between Yongsan Garrison and most other USFK facilities in Korea is the amount of families that live on Yongsan. Due to the number of families living on the post the installation operates a number of schools and community programs to create a good family environment on the compound. For soldiers stationed in the 2nd Infantry Division without their families it is a strange experience to go to Yongsan and see junior NCOs driving privately owned vehicles and taking their families shopping at the commissary.
Yongsan Apartment Housing.
The majority of the command sponsored families live on South Post or over at Hannam Village. The majority of housing on South Post is in individual homes while Hannam Village is composed of a highrise apartment complex of 1162 apartments that vary between 2, 3, & 4 bedrooms that are a 20 minute walk from Yongsan Garrison. I have heard nothing but good things about the housing on South Post where the majority of senior leadership lives; however I have heard nothing but bad things about the Hannam Village where mostly junior soldiers live. Not only have I heard and read bad things about the apartments from people who live there, but the Stars & Stripes has reported on it as well.
Hannam Village Apartments
Those that are not housed on South Post or over at Hannam Village are authorized to live in an off post apartment. Off post apartments can be very hit and miss in quality and are notorious for landlord sharks defrauding the military and servicemembers out of money.
Dragon Hill Lodge
One of the key attractions of USFK is without a doubt the Dragon Hill Lodge hotel located on the south post of Yongsan Garrison. This massive hotel opened in May 1990 and was constructed using Morale Welfare & Recreation (MWR) funds raised through soldier programs such as the slot machines in operation on USFK camps in Korea. No Congressional funding was used to construct the hotel and to this day the hotel operates through an MWR program called the Armed Forces Recreational Centers. The Dragon Hill Lodge is one of four AFRC hotels across the globe with the others being in Hawaii, Germany, and Florida.
The hotel has 394 rooms and suites that come with queen size beds, sofas, private bathrooms, DVD players, etc. The hotel also has a number of western style restaurants to include fast food such as Subway and Pizza Hut. My personal favourite is the Oasis Mexican Restaurant that I believe serves the best Mexican food in Korea. The hotel also has a massive exercise and swimming facility for its guests. It is also popular for weddings and other large catered functions.
The Dragon Hill Lodge is rated as a four star hotel and for those staying there it definitely deserves its rating. I have only stayed at the Dragon Hill Lodge on TDY orders and have enjoyed every time I have stayed there. However, the one downside of the hotel is its price. Prices for rooms are based on rank and duty status and the average cost for a room is over $200. There are various reasons for the high prices at the hotel but for soldiers on leave most can get a hotel room for less then a $100.
Even with the projected closing of Yongsan Garrison by 2012 the Dragon Hill Lodge is scheduled to remain a US military property which will mean that US servicemembers will be able to continue to use this great facility even after it closes.
Located literally across the street from the main post of Yongsan Garrison is Camp Kim. Camp Kim is known to most GIs stationed in Korea as where the Seoul United Service Organization (USO) is located. Going to the USO is the only reason I have ever personally visited Camp Kim. The USO actually runs and excellent facility at Camp Kim and the best I have seen in USFK. Definitely worth checking out if you are a soldier stationed in Korea.
However, there is more to Camp Kim then just the USO. The camp is also home to the Special Operations Command – Korea (SOCKOR) which is the lone US special forces unit assigned to the Korean theatre of operations. The 1st Signal Brigade Project Support Directorate is also located at the camp. This directorate provides a number of technical and communications support capabilities for USFK.
Camp Kim also houses the Vehicle Processing Center for USFK which provides customer service for privately owned vehicles (POVs) of USFK servicemembers and their families. Finally the Korean Service Corps (KSC) is based out of Camp Kim which is a large organization of Korean civilian workers that provide direct peace time and combat support services to the US military in Korea.
On the northern part of the land that encompasses Yongsan Garrison is the small USFK installation of Camp Coiner. This camp was named 2nd Lieutenant Randall Coiner assigned to the 3rd Battalion, 31st Infantry Regiment of the 7th Infantry Division who was posthumously awarded the Silver Star for actions taken in 1953 during the Korean War near the village of Sokkagae.
Prior to the US military taking control of the camp from the Imperial Japanese Army Camp Coiner was used as a garrison for a horse drawn artillery unit. Currently the camp is home to elements of 8th PERSCOM, the 8th MP Brigade, 17th Aviation Brigade, and the 1st Signal Brigade. The camp is relatively small and only encompasses a total of 55 acres.
Far East District Compound
The US Army’s Corps of Engineers Far East District has been based out of the extremely small Far East District Compound a block from Seoul’s massive Dongdaemun shopping district. The land that the compound was constructed on was originally owned by Seoul National University, but with the outbreak of the Korean War the South Korean government seized the land in order for the Corps of Engineers to start operations from the camp in 1951.
Since then with the economic development of Seoul, the surrounding community has swallowed up the small camp which some citizens of Seoul view as a eye sore. It also has been targeted by anti-US protesters from Hanchongryun that burned a hole in the US flag on the post. Recently the camp has been targeted by protesters angered by not being paid for services rendered while working on the project to expand Camp Humphreys.
The Far East District Compound is scheduled to be handed over back to the Korean government as part of the USFK transformation plan which has led to internal Korean fight between the ROK Ministry of Defense and Seoul National University over who really owns the land. Currently the compound is scheduled to close by 2012 and the land will be sold by the Ministry of Defense to the Korean National Housing Corporation. The camp is 142,000 square feet in size and is estimated that each 10.8 square feet in the compound is worth $85,000. The property is worth hundreds of millions of dollars thus making it quite clear why Seoul National University and the Ministry Defense are fighting over who controls the property.
Located in the far northern Dobong-gu suburb of Seoul is the small US military installation Camp Jackson. The camp was named after Private First Class George W. Jackson who was awarded the Silver Star during the Korean War. The camp is one of the smallest in Korea but probably has the prettiest back drop of any camp with the massive granite spires of beautiful Mt. Dobong soaring over the camp.
Camp Jackson used to be home to a field artillery Target Acquisition Battery that was assigned about 100 soldiers on the camp. In 1968 on the slopes of Mt. Dobong outside of the camp a continuing gun fight with Korean soldiers against North Korean infiltrators sent to kill Korean President Park Chung-hee erupted and could be heard from the camp.
Today there is no field artillery unit stationed on the camp any more and instead Camp Jackson is home to the Wightmen Non-commissioned Officer Academy that trains newly promoted US Army E-5 sergeants in basic NCO skills. Camp Jackson is also home to the very unique Korean Augmentee to the United States Army (KATUSA) training academy. Korea is the one US ally that has a sizable number of soldiers that serve side by side in US units. These Korean Army soldiers are called KATUSAs. The KATUSA program was first initiated in the early years of the Korean War to provide US units with translators and local cultural knowledge. KATUSA continue to provide these important capabilities along with conducting clerical, driving, maintenance, etc. work within their respective units.
All ROK Army draftees that are selected for the KATUSA program after passing rigorous English language tests must attend the KATUSA academy at Camp Jackson. For all KATUSAs this is their first initiation into serving with US soldiers. The NCOs that train both the NCOs and KATUSAs at the academy are of high quality but unfortunately a sexual assault against a KATUSA trainee mired the school’s image a few years ago. Since then the academy has had a clean record and continues to produce great young NCOs and KATUSA soldiers for the United States Forces Korea.
Camp Jackson is scheduled to be handed back over to the Korean government as part of the USFK transformation plan by 2012.
The K-16 airbase is located just south of the Han River in the Seoul suburb of Soengnam. The airbase was actually the old Seoul City Airport which during the Korean War was converted into a full time military base. It received the name K-16 because airfields during the war were given code names. The original name of the base was Seoul Airbase but its codename of K-16 is what stuck and it continues to be identified as K-16 Airbase to this day.
The airbase today is 86 acres in size and controlled by the Korean Air Force 15th Composite Wing who plays host to the US Army’s 2-2 Aviation Battalion and its support units such as the 595th Maintenance Company. The 2-2 Aviation Battalion is equipped with Blackhawk helicopters and only moved to the base in 2005 from their former home at Camp Stanley in Uijongbu. The battalion was moved from Camp Stanley as part of the USFK transformation plan. K-16 also hosts a small security force that is responsible for defending Camp Post Tango located on the base. CP Tango is the primary warfighting center where any contingency on the Korean peninsula would be commanded and controlled from.
The airbase is also the entry and departure point for many VIPs flying to and from Seoul to include the South Korean president and American government officials. However, the thing that K-16 is probably most known for to USFK servicemembers is the nearby Sungnam golf course. The Sungnam golf course is not only popular with US servicemembers but with Koreans as well.
It is important to note that there are no plans to close the airfield as part of the USFK transformation plan to consolidate units around the hubs of Camp Humphreys and Osan Airbase. In fact money is actually flowing into K-16 now with major upgrades to the facilities taking place including brand new apartments for the servicemembers to be housed in.
Camp Market is yet another military installation that was originally constructed by the Imperial Japanese army in the 1930’s as a logistics base for supplies coming through the port of Incheon. Like with Yongsan Garrison, the Camp Market area was handed over to the US occupation troops after World War II. The area was captured by the North Koreans in the opening week of the Korean War and was recaptured in September 1950 with the Incheon Landing Operation. After the landing General McArthur used the area as a logistical base. The camp was lost again in December 1950 with the entry of the Chinese into the war. The camp was recaptured from the Chinese in March 1951.
After the Korean War the area became known a logistical base for the US Marine Corps and in 1963 the area was given to the US Army which established the Army Support Command (ASCOM) in the area. ASCOM became the main logistical hub for the US military until most of the land and facilities for ASCOM was closed and turned over to the Korean government in 1973. Only the Camp Market area was not turned over and remains a small logistical base for USFK in Incheon.
Today Camp Market is composed of 34 warehouses that has a combined total of 852,495 square feet of storage space to store goods and supplies for USFK facilities. The Defense Reutilization and Marketing Office as well as the Army Air Force Exchange Service (AAFES) distribution and bakery is based out of Camp Market to provides products and baked goods to PXs and commissaries across USFK. Approximately 600 civilians work at Camp Market with the vast majority of them being Korean contract workers.
The Future of USFK Facilities in Seoul
As the decades passed in Seoul and the Korean economic miracle took hold of the city, it began to grow at a remarkable rate to where today Yongsan Garrison has been totally engulfed and surrounded by the city. A dense urban environment surrounds the garrison on all sides instead of the farmland that surrounded the garrison when it was first constructed by the Japanese.
This urban development has caused many problems for the US military in Korea because the 630 acres that composes the garrison causes both development and traffic problems for the city of Seoul. The location of the garrison also allows activists groups to easily use the garrison to conduct their anti-US protests at any time. There is not a US facility in Korea that has more anti-US protests then Yongsan Garrison.
Recognizing the problems of the current location of Yongsan Garrison the United States military has tried for years to get the base relocated outside of Seoul and has been continually met with South Korean governmental delays to any proposed move. The first proposal to move the garrison was actually initiated back in 1987 with then Korean President Roh Tae-woo. By 1990 a Memorandum of Understanding was signed to relocate Yongsan Garrison.
However, in 1993 a new Korean president had come to power, Kim Young-sam who that year canceled the plan move, deeming it to expensive because Seoul was to pay for the cost of moving the garrison. However, it was probably no coincidence that the Korean government also killed the Yongsan move the same year the North Korean nuclear crisis was happening and the nation was on the brink of war with the North Koreans. After war was avoided with the signing of the Agreed Framework talks about relocating the garrison were effectively delayed even further with the onset of the Asian Financial Crisis in 1997.
Talks to relocate Yongsan did not seriously heat up again until 2003 when US President George Bush and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld pushed the Korean government to relocate the garrison. On January 17, 2004 during the Sixth Future of the Alliance talks, an agreement was struck to relocate Yongsan Garrison to Camp Humphreys which is located about 50 kilometers south of Seoul. A small area of land would remain controlled by the US military at Yongsan to serve as the home for a new US embassy as well as keeping the Dragon Hill Lodge for the use of US servicemembers. The remainder of Yongsan was supposed to be turned into Seoul’s very own Central Park but business interests and politics may sink this idea.
The original plan was to have the base relocated by 2008. However, technical problems and South Korean governmental delay games pushed the date of the relocation back to 2010, then 2013 and then finally back to 2012. Now there is even attempts by the South Korean government to push the relocation all the way back to 2015. With such governmental delay games being played out it is easy to see that Yongsan Garrison is probably going to be around for many more years to come and I can think of quite a few people who will be happy about that.