50 years later, US military still a fixture in Gyeonggi ‘camp towns’

Posted on : 2015-06-29 17:06 KST Modified on : 2019-10-19 20:29 KST
US forces are now tasked with responding to changes in North Korea, but have earned the ire of local residents
 Gyeonggi Province chant slogans as they protest in front of US military base Camp Casey
Gyeonggi Province chant slogans as they protest in front of US military base Camp Casey

As of July 1, the US 2nd Infantry Division, which is stationed in Uijeongbu and Dongducheon in Gyeonggi Province, will have been in South Korea for 50 years. While the 2nd Infantry is called the symbol of South Korea’s alliance with the US, its soldiers have inflicted great harm to South Korean society through incidents including the murder of Yun Geum-yi and the death of two middle school girls under the tracks of military vehicles.

“To mark the 50th anniversary of the 2nd Division’s assignment to South Korea, a commemorative event will be held on July 1 at Camp Red Cloud, the division’s command post in Uijeongbu, Gyeonggi Province. Area residents and around 20 members of veteran groups will be invited to the event,” a representative from the 2nd Division said on June 28.

During deliberations with South Korea, US military personnel sometimes facetiously suggest that the US 2nd Division would be more accurately called the ROK 2nd Division. The joke refers to the fact that the US 2nd Division has been a permanent fixture on the corridor between Munsan, Gyeonggi Province, to Seoul for the past 50 years since July 1, 1965. This is the route that North Korean forces would use if they were to attack South Korea.

 calling for the base to be relocated from Dongducheon
calling for the base to be relocated from Dongducheon

The 2nd Division was deployed to fight in the Korean War on July 23, 1950, and then returned to the US in Aug. 1954. It came back to South Korea in 1965 because of increasing tensions on the Korean Peninsula and in Northeast Asia.

Since the end of the Cold War in the 1990s, the 2nd Division has been the US army’s only forward-stationed division. Heavily armed with tanks, armored vehicles and field guns, the 2nd Division is one of the premier divisions in the US army in terms of fighting strength and level of training.

More than 10,000 troops are currently stationed in Camp Red Cloud and Camp Stanley in Uijeongbu, Camp Casey and Hovey in Dongducheon, Camp Humphreys in Pyeongtaek, and K16 in Seongnam, accounting for around 40% of US Forces Korea’s total manpower.

Security experts and diplomats in the South Korean government have regarded the US 2nd Division, which is largely positioned north of the Han River, as a symbol of the US-ROK alliance.

But the 2nd Division has also inflicted grievous harm on South Korean society. In Oct. 1992, a US soldier brutally murdered Yun Geum-yi, who was working at a bar in Dongducheon, making the prevention of crimes by US soldiers into a social issue. This led to a major push for revising SOFA (US-South Korea Status of Forces Agreement).

In June 2002, two middle school girls named Shin Hyo-sun and Shim Mi-seon were crushed to death under the tracks of an armored US military vehicle on Highway 56 in Gwangjeok Township, Yangju, Gyeonggi Province. After the accident, candlelit vigils were held around the country.

According to the original plan, the entire 2nd Division was supposed to move to Pyeongtaek, Gyeonggi Province, located south of the Han River, by 2016, but the US decided to keep the 210th Fires Brigade at Camps Casey and Hovey in Dongducheon until 2020 as part of its Asia-Pacific rebalance. In the event of a crisis, the 210th Fires Brigade would strike North Korea’s long-range artillery emplacements and multiple rocket launchers.

Since 1951, US military bases have occupied 42% (40.63 square kilometers) of the municipality of Dongducheon. After the announcement that the 210th Fires Brigade would remain in the city, the residents of Dongducheon started protesting in front of Camp Casey at the end of Oct. 2014. The protest has lasted for 196 days so far.

“For 65 years, the neighborhoods, education, and environment have been damaged by the shameful reputation of a ‘camp town,’ and limitations on development have kept our local economy at the lowest level. For our whole life, people have told us that this is no place to live. The residents of Dongducheon have suffered for the security of the nation without being able to complain, let alone receive compensation. Don‘t kill us twice over,” said Han Jong-gap, chair of the Citywide Committee on the Redeployment of US Troops to Dongducheon.

There have also been concerns of late about measures to increase the offensive firepower of the 2nd Division. Recently, the 2nd Division has been strengthening its firepower and mobility by deploying multiple rocket launchers, new tanks, and Bradley armored vehicles and by rotating in troops from an armored brigade.

On June 3, a US-ROK joint division was launched that would integrate a brigade from the South Korean army into the US 2nd Division in a crisis situation. This joint division is reportedly supposed to prepare for abrupt changes in North Korea. During a war, it would be given the special mission of eliminating nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction.

“It doesn’t make sense for the US 2nd Infantry Division to increase its strength to the level of a corps. The existing training areas might not be able to accommodate the new weapons systems, and there are concerns about accidents occurring during training and movement,” said Koh Yeong-dae, senior analyst at the Institute for Peaceful Unification.


By Park Kyung-man, north Gyeonggi correspondent


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