US Forces in S. Korea Focus Balance Family, Threat of War


Brian Padden/VOA News

Despite recent tensions over North Korea’s nuclear and missile tests, life is actually quite normal for American military families living at Camp Humphreys in South Korea, which is the largest overseas Army installation in the world.Lieutenant Colonel Joseph Puskas tries to come to most of his daughters’ high school soccer games at Camp Humphreys. In fact, his family’s lifestyle at this sprawling U.S. military base is similar to one they would lead back home.

“We go to church on Sundays. We see all our friends there. We’re on the soccer field most of the afternoons, or just going for bike ride, the same things we would do if we were back in the States,” said Lieutenant Colonel Joseph Puskas, with the U.S. Eight Army.

This is Puskas’ fourth tour in Korea. He met and married his Korean wife Mi-jung, during an earlier tour. His children have spent much of their lives at military bases in Korea.

“I think it has given me a wider world view and has helped me understand other people a lot more,” said Elizabeth Puskas, the eldest daughter of the family who will attend college next year in the United States.

Sprawling city

The U.S. military in Korea is consolidating its forces in Camp Humphreys, including its military headquarters, as it moves to close older bases in congested Seoul and other regions of the country.

Camp Humphreys is now the size of a small city, encompassing over 140 square kilometers of land, with construction underway to expand its capacity to accommodate over 40,000 people.

There are modern apartments for soldiers and their families, schools, movie theaters, shopping centers and fast food restaurants to help bring some of the comforts of home to military life in Korea. The base even has its own golf course.

“I have been around the army for part of the last 40 years as a soldier and now as a civilian, and this is as normal as any army post I’ve ever been on. In fact it is probably the nicest one I’ve been on because everything is new,” said Bob McElroy, a Camp Humphreys public affairs officer.

Military readiness

Located 100 kilometers south of the heavily fortified inter-Korean border, Camp Humphreys is also outside the range of most North Korean artillery stationed at the border.

The increased threat of military conflict with North Korea has not altered the family friendly environment on this growing base.

The annual U.S.-South Korean military exercises underway are just part of the routine of military life here.

Like many U.S. soldiers in Korea, Lieutenant Colonel Puskas tries not to overreact to reports that war is imminent over the North’s nuclear and missile tests, or that peace is at hand with the upcoming nuclear summits, with the meeting of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and South Korean President Moon planned for this week, and the summit between U.S. President Donald Trump and Kim expected to be held in May or June..

“Obviously we are sensitive to what is going on. Do we worry about it? I mean, we think about it,” said Lt. Col. Puskas.

Instead Puskas, like many in Camp Humphreys, works to balance family responsibilities with maintaining military readiness to respond quickly if called upon to act.

The Camp Humphreys expansion is estimated to cost $11 billion. The South Korean government has invested over $900 million to build roads, water treatment facilities and other support services for the base.

Lee Yoon-jee and Kim Hyung-jin in Seoul contributed to this report

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