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Fayetteville Online September 21, 2006

Conventional wisdom

By Henry Cuningham
Military editor

Fort Bragg has focused on Iraq and Afghanistan lately, but a recent exercise in South Korea serves as a reminder of other worldwide threats.

“The requirement to be ready for high-intensity conflict has not gone away,” Col. Mark Yenter said.

Yenter, former commander of the 20th Engineer Brigade, is the 18th Airborne Corps assistant chief of staff for operations. Among the participants was Lt. Col. Jun Tae Kim, the South Korean liaison officer to the 18th Airborne Corps at Fort Bragg.

“I think after this year Korea and the U.S. Army will connect strongly,” Kim said. “I hope the current strong relationship will continue.”

About 300 people from the corps headquarters deployed from Fort Bragg to South Korea from about Aug. 24 to Sept. 3 for the mostly secret annual Ulchi Focus Lens exercise with the South Korean military. Lt. Gen. John R. Vines, commander of Fort Bragg and the 18th Airborne Corps, was a corps commander in the exercise.

Ulchi Focus Lens is “the world’s largest computerized command and control exercise,” according to GlobalSecurity.org. Commanders and staffs focus on issues associated with military operations on the Korean peninsula using computer simulation, the Web site said.

The exercise combines Ulchi, a South Korean mobilization exercise involving thousands of people, and Focus Lens, in which military staffs practice moving troops and fighting battles via computer simulation, according to U.S. Pacific Command in Hawaii.

“We bring in thousands of soldiers, Marines and airmen from the States,” Yenter said. “The headquarters interoperate with the South Korean armed forces against a foreign enemy, foreign to South Korea.”

The exercise brings home the fact that there remains a huge middle ground between hunting small groups of terrorists and full-scale nuclear confrontation, he said. That’s where army-to-army fighting comes into play.

“There’s always a role for conventional forces to prevent the escalation of any conflict from being a conventional fight to being something other than conventional, like nuclear or biological,” Yenter said. “It is always relevant to have a conventional force available to prevent the escalation from occurring.”

Without a deployable conventional force, you might find yourself in the old Cold War scenario, the old trip-wire concept — if you invade a portion of a country, then it’s automatically nuclear war, Yenter said. “That, of course, leaves us with no diplomatic or military flexibility.”

For the new soldiers

The exercise gave the corps headquarters a chance to train after turnover since the Iraq deployment in 2005.

“For the new people in the corps headquarters, it gave them an opportunity, under field conditions, under some pretty high-intensity conflict, to manage their time and do the staff processes and set the commanding general up to make good, informed decisions, to be proactive and fight the fight the way he wants to fight the fight,” Yenter said.

High-intensity combat — such as the invasion of Iraq — requires reacting quickly in a fast-moving, quickly-changing environment, Yenter said.

“Counterinsurgency — which is what the corps was doing over in Iraq while we were there and what the corps was doing early-entry into Afghanistan under Gen. (Dan K.) McNeill a few years before that — is much more of a slow pace,” Yenter said. “There are fewer things that are measurable and tangible to give you feedback about how the fight is going. It takes a longer decision cycle, more in-depth staff planning. You have to look for less-tangible indicators of how the war is going.”


Copyright 2006, The Fayetteville (NC) Observer