BUSAN, South Korea - National Guard and Reserve units from across the United States mobilized in March 2013 to South Korea to participate in the annual combined and joint-training exercise known as Key Resolve. Each year, a varying number of units provide additional support to the Eighth Army in training to refine the Eighth’s ability to coordinate and collaborate at a multinational level in order to deter and defeat aggression on the Korean Peninsula.
While in Korea, these units trained and worked in their respective jobs alongside active duty U.S. and Republic of Korea Army soldiers.
“It’s an interesting dynamic working with ROK soldiers,” said Staff Sgt. Greg Meleza, a psychological operations specialist with the 304th Psychological Operations Company from Sacramento, Calif. “The military here is far more advanced than the ones we’ve worked with before.”
This is Meleza’s first time in South Korea. Prior to his arrival here, he worked with the Afghan military off and on for three years from 2010-2012, while deployed. He also worked with militaries in Europe on various other deployments.
Working with ROK service members, many of whom speak only Korean, differentiates this training from what soldiers receive back in the states. Soldiers from both countries bond as they live and work together, which, in the course of just a few days, solidifies the team.
“I’ve enjoyed working with ROK soldiers immensely. They are very friendly and helpful,” said Maj. Patrick Brownell, the chaplain for the 230th Sustainment Brigade from Chattanooga, Tenn.
Refining the ability to work with their ROK counterparts is the whole reason for the exercise. If cohabitation can exist easily, soldiers can carry out their missions much faster, said Maj. Gen. Sanford E. Holman, the commanding general of the 200th Military Police Command from Fort Meade, Md.
“The pace of our success will be determined by our interoperability,” Holman said. “The better they know us and the better we know them, the smoother our operations will go and the sooner we will have mission success.”
This is the third time the 200th MPC has participated in Key Resolve. The unit has also participated in the Ulchi-Freedom Guardian exercise which takes place in August.
Training on the Korean Peninsula has its advantages over training in the states. For many Guard and Reserve Troops, the landscape is far different from back home.
“Being in this environment makes it feel more realistic,” said Spc. Thien Nguyen, an information technology specialist attached to the 5th Space Company from Colorado Springs, Colo., which regularly participates in the exercise.
Working with ROK soldiers is unique when compared to training in the United States. Here, troops are able to train in a full-scale exercise within a combined environment, making it similar to a combat situation.
“I’m getting great training, and I take it very seriously,” said Spc. Theodore Thompson, a signal support specialist with the 200th MPC.
South Korea provides a unique training environment which provides soldiers very real challenges. Some of these include locals that don’t speak the same language and unfamiliar territories.
“This is the most realistic training experience that we can possibly have,” Brownell said. “In a real world battle scenario, working with other militaries is exactly what would happen.”
Realistic overseas combined training is the reason reserve component soldiers travel thousands of miles to South Korea.
“We’re getting exactly what we came here for,” said Command Sgt. Maj. Kurtis Timmer of the 200th MPC.
When reserve soldiers go to a training exercise like Key Resolve, they get a chance to work with active duty soldiers from the U.S. and other countries which helps to streamline the skills they have been practicing for the past year.
“Since we are part-time military, we get an opportunity to practice skill sets we don’t normally spend a lot of time with,” said Staff Sgt. Jimmy Rodriguez, a psychological operations specialist with the 304th Psychological Operations Company.
Many of these reservists spend the majority of their time working as civilians. They only don their military uniform during their monthly drill-weekends and then practice what they trained during their two-week annual training exercise.
“The challenge is when you have one battle assembly a month and a two week exercise each year,” Holman said. “For about eleven months you have pieces of a puzzle, but when you come to the exercise, the pieces come together and you understand the big picture once the puzzle is complete.”