By: Dr. Tom Waters
Since Mr. Robert Wilke has been confirmed by the US Senate and now has the title of VA Secretary, let’s allow him to establish himself as we follow his accomplishments. So, until we have the opportunity to report on what he is doing to help improve the VA Healthcare System for ALL Veterans, there are many other areas that impact Active Duty personnel which eventually will impact all of us as Veterans.
One such area is North Korea. While in Singapore, President Trump met with North Korean Leader Kim Jong-un and the two men reached a “written agreement to ‘do something’” in the future. While we don’t know yet what the “something” is, I fully agree that “talking” is better than fighting. For that reason, I applaud the President for his efforts and I readily admit that the recent release of American remains from the Korean War is a positive step.
I won’t attempt to evaluate the success or failure of their “agreement”, but I will discuss the reality of the “pause in the annual training exercises” that impacts the United States and our Allies.
My four years in the Philippines with the 3rd Tactical Fighter Wing as a Maintenance Squadron Commander and my three-years on Guam as the 13th Air Force Deputy Commander of Logistics provided me much insight into how critical the training remains for our military forces to remain the best-trained military in the world. We ARE the best because of our training and our commitment to our US Citizens and our Allies.
As I was contemplating how to assemble this article, I saw an article in the Air Force Times entitled “Peace on the Peninsula?” by Stephen Losey. Portions of that article are reproduced here with written permission from the Air Force Times.
His article begins just as I would have started it by providing the background to the training and where we are today. His article, “For years, thousands of U.S. airmen and other troops have gathered with South Korean allies late each summer for a joint exercise to prepare for a possible outbreak of war with North Korea, but this year, as part of the Trump Administration efforts to find a path to persuade North Korea to give up its nuclear weapons peacefully, the August drill known as Ulchi Freedom Guardian has been called off.”
President Trump agreed to suspend major military exercises – which he referred to as “war games” – with South Korea during the Singapore summit with North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un in June.
The Air Force has called Ulchi Freedom Guardian the largest computerized command-and-control exercise in the world to “increase the readiness and interoperability of South Korea and U.S. forces to defend South Korea if needed.”
At the time of the article, it was not clear if future exercises on the Peninsula would also be canceled or delayed. According to a retired Air Force General, Herbert Carlisle, North Korea isn’t the only threat in the region – and isn’t the only reason to hold Foal Eagle(another exercise) and Ulchi Freedom Guardian.
The Pentagon’s new defense strategy stresses the need to counter superpowers such as China and Russia. In particular, China’s increasing aggressiveness in the South China Sea is causing concern for military leaders. According to Carlisle, “There’s a lot going on in the Pacific. The Korean peninsula is clearly important, and it’s a key component. But the readiness and that training translate across the entire [area of operations], in relationships and understanding and operations and planning and execution. I don’t think people realize there’s so much more to it.”
The exercises are structured to replicate what intelligence believes a war with North Korea would look like if one was to break out, but the skill sets practiced during those exercises have broader use elsewhere as well. Carlisle added, “When we train on the [peninsula], it translates across the entire AOR. The command-and-control, the staff, the ISR (Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance), the execution of planning, working together with your friends and allies – that skill set can translate anywhere in the Pacific.”
Unfortunately, troops rotate in and out, and, in many cases on a yearly basis as a “remote” tour of duty in Korea. Each year (during my 4 years in the Philippines and my three years on Guam) that I participated in Korean exercises, I was working with people just getting there or preparing to leave. In essence, that means that for several thousand U.S. military personnel, that missed training will be gone forever unless they do a second remote tour to Korea … which is NOT likely.
The U.S. Military (all Branches) train with partners. Therefore, it’s not just important for U.S. Forces to get practice because these exercises are important to make sure South Korean allies get their practice as well. We need to ensure that U.S. Forces are used to working alongside their counterparts and synchronized if a conflict on the peninsula were to erupt. Don’t forget that the U.S. Military train the way we fight and fight the way we train.
So, I won’t criticize the President for making a decision to avoid war, but I hope he realizes just how important this unified training is to maintain a fit fighting force for the Army, Marines, Navy, and Air Forces for the United States and for our allies.
I would also remind the President that these are NOT “War Games” as much as it is ‘training for war’ to defend the National Security of the United States and our allies.
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