Senators Throw Cold Water on USFK Normalization Plan

      June 20, 2011 11:05

      A plan authorizing U.S. troops to bring their families to Korea for three-year tours has been held in check by the U.S. Congress, giving rise to confusion among foreign servicemen in the country.

      The U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee on Thursday had the 2012 National Defense Authorization Act include a recommendation that would indefinitely delay the expanded tour normalization plan. The proposal was submitted by committee chairman Carl Levin, Democratic Senator Jim Webb and Republican Senator John McCain.

      In their recommendation, the senators stressed the need to stay within certain budgetary constraints and pressed for reviews of alternative measures to flying family members over to the war-threatened peninsula, which is considered enough of a threat to merit "war zone" salary stipends for U.S. troops.

      There is a strong need to curtail "the obligation of any funds for tour normalization on the Korean Peninsula until the Secretary of the Army provides the Congress with a master plan including all costs and schedule to complete the program," the senators said. The proposal also called for "an analysis of alternatives justifying the operational need for normalization".

      This expresses similar sentiments to an earlier statement the senators issued on May 12 calling for a reconsideration of the plan.

      USFK soldiers typically serve in South Korea for unaccompanied tours of one or two years, but the U.S. military has recently been making efforts to bring this in line with the standard applied to troops stationed elsewhere. This means letting them serve a full three years together with their family members in order to create a more stable and healthy working environment.

      But U.S. Congress is finding fault with the plan, arguing that it will require an additional budget of over US$5 billion by 2020, and that it is against military policy to let USFK service members bring their families to South Korea in view of the threat posed by an unpredictable North Korean regime.

      Despite the confusion, U.S. administration officials claim the original plan will proceed as scheduled.

      "Current agreements and policies have been carefully developed over many years in close consultation and coordination with our allies and within the U.S. government, including with the military services and with Congress," U.S. Defense Department spokeswoman Navy Cmdr. Leslie Hull-Ryde said. "This... does not change our commitment to our current approach."

      In a recent congressional hearing, Secretary of Defense nominee Leon Panetta, who is tasked with trimming budgets, said he would cooperate with the Congress "to try to determine what the best and most cost-effective approach would be" to maintaining a U.S. military presence in the Pacific region.

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