Kunsan Air Base
Kunsan Air Base is located on the shores of the Yellow Sea, at an elevation of only 30 feet (9 meters), on South Korea's west coast, some 7-8 miles from Kunsan City, a port on the Kum River. The city had about 280,000-300,000 residents. It is some 150 miles southwest of the country's capital, Seoul and is only about a 15-minute jet flight from North Korea. Kunsan AB was often referred to as the last of the "warrior bases." As an unaccompanied remote tour, servicemen and women would spend a quick 12 months at the "tip of the spear," fulfilling the wing's mission, "To deliver lethal airpower when and where directed by the Air Component Commander."
The base is bordered on the west and south by the Yellow Sea. The terrain immediately to the north and east is rugged, consisting of numerous hills reaching heights of 90 feet (27 meters) to 120 feet (37 meters). Although these hills are not very high, they can cause cloud formation due to orographic lift. Hills and mountains cover about 75 percent of Korea, with the remainder covered by scattered lowlands. Most of the rivers are short, swift, and shallow due to topography, narrowness, and sand deposits within the river. There are two small mountain ranges within 49 miles (91 km) of Kunsan. About 102 miles (55 km) north, lies an east-west oriented range, with heights approximately 1,970 feet (601 meters) above sea level. The second range is higher, about 2,950 feet (899 meters), and is 40 miles (74 km) east of Kunsan AB. Its orientation is north-south. The small range to the north is high enough to have significant effect on air moving over Kunsan from the north. Farther east is the Sobaek Range, which forms a north-south interior divide on the Korean peninsula. These mountains have a general elevation of 3,530 feet (1,076 meters), but have little effect on the weather at Kunsan.
Winter at Kunsan AB extended from November through early March. During this period, daytime temperatures ranged from approximately 55 degrees Fahrenheit in November to around 35 degrees Fahrenheit in January. Strong northwest surface winds during these months produced wind chill factors below zero. Snowfall occured most often during December and January, with an average monthly accumulation of more than 18 inches. Spring (March through May), would mark a transition from winter to summer. The summer months at Kunsan AB, (June through mid-September), was commonly called "the rainy season". Average rainfall for June is 5 inches, increasing to 10 inches in July. Rain tapers off towards summer's end to average just more than 5 inches in September. Summer daytime temperatures range from around 75 degrees Fahrenheit to approximately 85 degrees Fahrenheit. July and August were usually hot and humid. Autumn at Kunsan AB like spring, was a transition period lasting through the latter portion of September and all of October.
Kunsan is just hours away from Naejangsan National Park, famous for the breathtaking colorful autumn leaves, skiing at Muji Ski Resort, and a short drive to many hot springs resorts located throughout the Republic of Korea. Chejudo Island is a favorite tourist spot. It is only an hour flying from Kunsan. Located just 200 miles south of Kunsan in the Namhae (South Sea) it is often referred to as the "Hawaii of Korea."
The port of Kunsan on the Yellow Sea was established in 1899 and could accommodate large ocean-going vessels. Kunsan city listed fishing as a major industry, along with its reputation as a major exporter of plywood and rubber shoes. The city had many interesting things to see, such as an outdoor market place, 3 Buddhist temples, a park with a panoramic view of the city and various shops carrying many different lines of merchandise. The nightclub scene was found in the off-base "A-Town." American Town, a few miles outside the main gate of Kunsan AIr Base. There were stores, shops, restaurants, bars and dance clubs there. The security forces' 13-member Town Patrol walked the A-Town streets and alleyways. The patrol was there to provide "preventive maintenance." In 2008, the official name was changed to "International Culture Ville," though "A-Town" and "American Town" remained in common usage.
Housing units at Kunsan range from 5 to 40 years old. Consequently, the 8th Fighter Wing's "Wolf Pack" Housing Office was in the process of "making it better." Many renovations were ongoing or were scheduled for the near future. A new dorm had been completed and more dorms were scheduled for construction. New arrivals were asked for their patience and a willing "self-help" attitude. A lot of new construction to replace the base's ancient infrastructure was ongoing. The base was scheduled to undergo a $250 million facelift to address the various issues.
Kunsan AB, located on the peninsula's southwest coast, sits 109 miles south of the DMZ. The base is within easy reach of North Korean weapons capable of delivering chemical munitions. Hence, there was a need for chemical warfare classes for everyone immediately upon arrival. Army Patriot missile sites and machine-gun bunkers served a constant reminder that the front lines of battle could be as close as the front door.
The United States Air Force had a continuing requirement to maintain adequate supplies of ammunition and explosives within the ROK to support wartime and contingency operational plans. Since capabilities were limited on USAF-controlled installations, the US obtained additional storage capabilities through a concept known as MAGNUM (Munitions Storage Activities Gained by Negotiations of USAF/ROKAF Memorandum). MAGNUMs were a concept unique to Korea, where USAF-titled munitions were stored at facilities which were owned, operated, and protected by the ROKAF. Accordingly, the USAF had very little control over the storage of munitions within these areas and no authority to enforce the maintenance of Q-D clear zones. As a result of encroachment by the Korean civilians into the explosive clear zones, there were large numbers of exposures around the MAGNUMs. There was a permanent exemption from US DoD Q-D standards for off-installation and ROK exposures created by storage of USAF munitions at MAGNUM locations. This exemption applied for all off-installation and ROK violations created by the originally sited net explosives weight (NEW) of storage structures located at the Osan, Kunsan, Suwon, Kwang Ju, Sachon, Taegu, and Cheong Ju MAGNUMs.
Kunsan AB, home of the 8th Fighter Wing (the "Wolf Pack") was originally built by the Japanese as a fighter-interceptor base in 1938. Kunsan AB became the home of US Military Assistance Advisory Group in Korea at the end of World War II. In 1949, US Forces left Korea, turning the base over to the then-fledgling Republic of Korea Air Force. In August 1950, during the Korean conflict, Kunsan was occupied by North Korean forces. The 3rd Battalion, 24th Infantry, US Army, recaptured the base and Kunsan City on 30 September 1950. Fifth Air Force took over Kunsan AB in October 1950 and began modifying and rehabilitating existing buildings. In March 1951, the 27th Air Installation Squadron started maintenance on the base runway. The 3rd Bombardment Wing arrived on 22 August 1951. After the 3rd Bombardment Wing returned to Japan at the end of the Korean conflict, Kunsan AB was home to many US Forces units. The 6175th Air Base Wing operated and maintained the base from 1954 to 1971. The 3rd Bombardment Wing returned to Kunsan AB as the 3rd Tactical Fighter Wing and stayed until the 1974 arrival of the 8th Tactical Fighter Wing. The 8th Tactical Fighter Wing was redesignated as the 8th Fighter Wing on 1 February 1992.
In 2002 the United States and the Republic of Korea agreed to a Land Partnership Plan (LPP) that would dramatically change the face of the US precense on the peninsula. While the Kunsan Air Base was slated to remain under US control and not be returned to the ROK, some land adjacent to the Kunsan city airport at the north end of the base was ceded, and incorporated into that facility. However, as part of the expansion of remaining US bases to handle the reorganization, Kunsan airbase was expanded by 315 acres around near the bases ammunition storage facility in 2007. This land grant was made possible by the ROK after they purchased land previously used as farmland adjacent to the base. A land grant had been negotiated by the US and the ROK for the space.
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