CAMP YONGIN, South Korea — I Corps wrapped-up its annual Ulchi Freedom Guardian exercise Aug. 31 reaffirming the unit’s prevailing partnership with its Third Republic of Korea Army counterparts.
From Aug. 18 to 30, I Corps Soldiers mobilized, prepared their battlespace and exercised their abilities to operate in a combined command setting that spanned the corps’ warfighting functions. Ulchi Freedom Guardian is a regularly scheduled, annual exercise and was not in response to any current world events. As I Corps continues to team-up with its allies in the Republic of Korea, it is taking advantage of every opportunity to build readiness through partnership.
Although the titles have changed during the 41 years the exercise has existed, the premise has remained the same — increase readiness through partnering with the Republic of Korea. The exercise is ultimately designed to exercise the U.S. and ROK’s abilities to maintain stability on the Korean peninsula by training commanders and staffs in both nations to maneuver as a combined force.
“We have multiple training objectives for each echelon during this exercise,” said Lt. Gen. Gary Volesky, I Corps commanding general. “We not only have to train how to physically set-up, tear down and move for an expeditionary fight, but build relationships with our (Third Republic of Korea Army) teammates and maintain that connection by consistently participating in these exercises.”
With a strong conviction that learning organizations help develop relationships, Volesky believes that building combined capabilities with Third Republic of Korea Army also strengthens his team’s abilities to work together with a common focus.
“Not only are we building connections and relationships with our partners, we are also building our team’s ability to understand the environment,” Volesky said. “We must be able to deploy, fight and win decisively anywhere our nation sends us.”
According to Command Sgt. Maj. Walter Tagalicud, I Corps command sergeant major, part of embracing that expeditionary mindset means focusing on a “train how you fight” mentality.
“When establishing bonds with our partners, it’s not the same to train at home,” Tagalicud said. “We have to condition ourselves to be away, in their environment. All aspects of training require practicing field craft and understanding how our allies maneuver. With readiness and partnership, repetition builds confidence, and confidence builds mastery.”
This repetitious, expeditionary training model requires a disciplined approach. Whereas all warfighting functions and staff elements have to combine to form a common vision, 1st Sgt. Caleb Mellette also stresses the importance of training on how to sustain and support fighting in an austere environment.
Mellette, a first sergeant with Headquarters, Support Company, sees UFG as a way to concentrate on the detailed, systems approach required to adaptively sustain large groups of Soldiers on the move, particularly when operating in a combined, joint environment.
“This exercise allows everyone (at Camp Yongin, South Korea) to see where we stand as a corps and the energy required to maintain, equip and sustain, not only us, but all participating forces,” Mellette said. “During and after the exercise, we have to pay attention and deep dive into areas where we consider taking away boundaries and specifically identifying exactly what we need to sustain that fight. It’s a vision of a lean and expeditionary force across all platforms.”
Colonel Mario Diaz, I Corps chief of staff, lauds UFG for the exercise’s ability to stress readiness amongst the corps’ multiple platforms, while adding the complicated elements inherent in synchronizing operations with an allied nation.
“Doing all of this within the framework and conditions of our (Third Republic of Korea Army) partner’s environment adds a complexity we can all put our efforts into,” Diaz said. “We can never forget what our basic building blocks of warfighting capabilities are, but we add a new dynamic that you just can’t replicate when we train with and through our partners. We have to work aggressively with our partners and guard ourselves against anything that takes us away from that time to build our systems of trust and learning.”