Officials from the US and Korea recently held ceremonies to mark 66 years of the Korean Augmentation Troops to the US Army (KATUSA) program and commemorated the program’s valuable contribution to the decades-long alliance. On August 15, 2016, the US Eighth Army and the KATUSA Veterans Association celebrated the anniversary of foundation of KATUSA at Camp Jackson, South Korea. This annual ceremony was started in 2010 to recognize KATUSA’s services and to strengthen US-Korea relations. This year, some 400 US military officials, KATUSA war veterans, KATUSA reservists, and active-duty KATUSA soldiers participated in the event.
The KATUSA program plays a key role in the US-South Korea alliance. The program was established in the early days of the Korean War. It began in July 1950 as a temporary measure to help the US Army with knowledge of local terrain by partnering American troops with South Korean counterparts. After the Korean War, it was continued as an integral part of US-South Korea military cooperation. Today, KATUSA has evolved to include cultural exchange and has become a symbol of friendship between the two nations. The US military does not operate a similar type of this augmentation in any other country.
Recognizing its historical and symbolic significance, the KATUSA program has also been honored at events in the US. In June, 2016, the Korean War Veterans Foundation held a special commemorative event at the Korean War Veterans Memorial in Washington, DC, where more than 7,000 fallen KATUSA soldiers were named and remembered throughout the day. They were the earliest KATUSA soldiers who sacrificed their lives alongside the US Army during the Korean War. In addition to the one in Washington, DC, Korean War memorials can be found in 40 US states, including a major new memorial in San Francisco.
So far, more than 300,000 South Korean troops have worked alongside the US military through the KATUSA program. Now, as a branch of the Korean Army, it does not form an individual military unit, but instead dispatches approximately 2,000 KATUSA troops throughout the US Eighth Army in Korea each year. They live and work with US troops while participating in the equivalent of US basic combat training.
Jeesu Lee is a Research Intern at the East-West Center in Washington and an Asan Washington Young Fellow with the Asan Academy in Seoul.