The Yongsan Relocation Plan (YRP) and Land Partnership Plan (LPP) signed in 2004 formally designated a new footprint for the American military in the Republic of Korea.
The YRP will move most U.S. service members out of the Seoul metropolitan area, while the LPP will move most of the U.S. forces stationed north of the Han River (near the Demilitarized zone) to U.S. Army Garrison Humphreys, west of the city of Pyeongtaek, about 40 miles south of Seoul.
As the design and construction agent for United States Forces Korea, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Far East District is at the forefront of the move to the two enduring hubs of Humphreys and Daegu, about 150 miles southeast of Seoul.
This $10.7 billion Korea Relocation Program is one of the largest transformation, re-stationing and construction projects in Department of Defense history. U.S. Army Garrison Humphreys will transform into the largest U.S. Army garrison in Asia, with the Far East District having oversight over relocation construction.
“When completed, the two programs will enable the return of land to the Republic of Korea and the relocation of approximately 12,000 U.S. service members to U.S. Army Garrison Humphreys from U.S. Army Garrison Yongsan and from multiple locations north of Seoul,” said U.S. Army Chief of Engineers Lt. Gen. Thomas Bostick during his press briefing May 22 to the Washington Foreign Press Center about U.S. Army Corps of Engineers operations in the Asia/Pacific region.
The scope of the work at Humphreys alone is almost staggering –a medium-sized American town is being built from the ground up. When work at Humphreys is complete in a few years it will be an impressive site, particularly in that two-thirds of the garrison didn’t exist just a decade before.
The original garrison covered 1,210 acres, but once complete will be 3,528 acres. Los Angeles International Airport, by contrast, will be 103 acres smaller than Humphreys.
“When completed, the Army Corps of Engineers will have overseen construction of 655 new and renovated facilities,” Bostick said. “This is the largest single activity in scope and scale that we currently have underway when it comes to military construction."
What looks impressive on the surface is figuratively just the tip of the iceberg – what was accomplished below the ground is an engineering feat in itself.
In fact, the Corps of Engineers actually brought in a lot of that below-ground “new land.” About 17.6 million cubic meters of engineered fill – the dirt under the buildings – has been placed on the existing land to a depth of about 8 1/2 feet. A levee wall rises an additional few feet above this, high enough to keep the nearby river held back during a “100-year” flood.
To put that into perspective, 17.6 million cubic meters of land could fill the world’s largest fully-enclosed stadium - the National Stadium in Beijing, which was built for the 2008 Olympics - about six times. Or, for baseball fans, that amount could fill the old Yankee Stadium in New York City about 50 times.
Between 1,500 and 2,500 trucks were bringing in that fill, every day, over a few years, with each vehicle averaging a round trip of 20 to 30 miles. The trucks that hauled that fill to the site traversed a distance equivalent to going around the world at the equator about 2,000 times. At 24,109 miles around the equator, that’s about 49 million miles.
While the amount of fill is impressive, what’s going into that fill is also important. Underneath much of this new ground, as well as under the existing garrison, are about 42 miles of new communications pathways, 988 miles of new cable and 504 miles of conduit. Add to these, 16 miles of sewers and gas lines. Finally, there is about 42 miles of new stormwater piping, including special drainage piping at the base of the new fill dirt that allows drainage of saturated soil.
To ensure that the construction and relocation is completed and all of the district’s missions are finished on time, the Far East District has more than 500 U.S. and Korean civilians, and about two dozen uniformed Army personnel, working on the approximately $15 billion worth of projects throughout the peninsula. The new facilities range from headquarters to housing, and encompass a wide variety of operational and quality-of-life facilities in between.
The medical and dental complex on Humphreys, for example, has been under construction since November of 2012. Once completed in early 2016 the campus will be able to support 65,000 eligible beneficiaries and 5,000 annual inpatient admissions.
Construction on the Department of Defense Dependent Schools Middle and Elementary Schools and Educational and Developmental Intervention Services facility began in June 2013 and is expected to be completed by mid-2015. The middle school will support 1,100 students while the elementary school will support 875 students.
Construction on the new Humphreys “downtown” began in the fall of 2014 and will include an exchange, commissary, bowling center and chapel among its 11 buildings and parking structure. Completion is expected in early 2016.
Another major part of this involves barracks construction to house the relocating troops, and the district is building them on an almost unprecedented scale.
Nearly 20 barracks are either completed, nearing completion, in construction or planned for on four different installations across the peninsula. Dozens have been built over the past decade or so.
“We have 13 well under construction or nearly complete, and three just started, for a total of 16 just here at Humphreys [alone],” said Greg Reiff, the Far East District Humphreys Area Office Area Engineer in early 2014.
All told, the district is now building barracks space for nearly 3,500 unaccompanied personnel, most of which is at U.S. Army Garrison Humphreys.
The majority of the barracks under construction for the Army are eight-story projects capable of housing 302 military personnel each.
Reiff has worked for the district since 1996 but has never seen this many barracks being built at one time.
“Two to three barracks a year,” he said about the majority of his time in Korea. “Now it’s three or four clusters of three to four barracks at a time.”
Steve Kim, Resident Engineer at the Area Office’s Pyeongtaek Resident Office, has construction surveillance oversight of eight of the new barracks at Camp Humphreys under three different contracts.
These contracts aren’t U.S. military construction-funded projects. They fall under what is called Republic of Korea Funded Construction – In Kind. With this, the Korean Ministry of National Defense, Defense Installation Agency contracts out the projects and provides project management of the actual construction.
The Far East District, however, still plays a key role in ensuring they are built to U.S. specifications.
“With construction surveillance, I ensure these projects are built to standards,” said Kim. “I spend a lot of my time keeping the chain of command and the installation DPW (Department of Public Works) informed of their progress.”
Each new building the district constructs is Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Silver Certifiable. This means the building will have energy efficient features, making a smaller carbon impact on the environment.
“We are determined to both provide the best available facilities to support our national security but also ensure that extra energy resources aren’t wasted once the buildings are operational,” said Col. Bryan S. Green, commander and engineer of the Far East District.
The relocation project conforms to the district’s mission to provide planning, engineering, design and construction management services in direct support of US Forces Korea. The district fulfills this by working closely with the Korean Ministry of National Defense United States Forces Korea Relocation Office (MURO) as construction on the peninsula increases.
Brig. Gen. Kang, Chang-koo, Director General of Program Management, MURO, said the teamwork between the district and MURO since the Land Partnership and Yongsan Relocation Plan agreements were signed has never wavered.
"Many challenges, big and small, lie ahead of us, but I'm not worried because we as a team are strong enough to accomplish the mission," said Kang. "Thanks to our partnership the Yongsan Relocation Plan and Land Partnership Plan is now [well underway]."
To deal with such a large relocation the majority of the district’s construction division employees have already moved to U.S. Army Garrison Humphreys, with more following in the coming months. Many of the district’s incoming personnel are being sent directly to Humphreys, rather than Seoul, minimizing the district headquarters complex’s move costs in two years.
“I think this is the best way to focus everyone on the YRP,” said Mike Kopp, Far East District construction division quality assurance branch chief. “We can be more efficient down there. Every dollar and every hour counts.”
As of October 2014, the Korea Relocation Program is more than halfway done, and construction is scheduled to be fully completed in 2017.