Copyright John T. Reed

Those of us who were in Vietnam were generally impressed with the discipline of the ROK (Republic of Korea) troops. Although all allied soldiers were supposed to wear their helmet and flak jackets in convoys, because of the heat, many took them off. Not the ROKs. You would see one ROK driving one truck all by himself and he would have his helmet and flak jacket on. Their camps were also immaculately maintained.

It was not always so. During the Korean War, ROK troops were famous for hiding in their foxholes or running during combat. In part, because of their poor combat discipline and because U.S. units were depleted by casualties, the KATUSA program was implemented on 8/15/50. In Iraq, our units are depleted by the nation’s unwillingness to implement a draft.

KATUSA stands for Korean Augmentation to the U.S. Army. Each company or battery (about 125 men) got 100 KATUSAs. Officers and NCOs were all American.

The program, which was thrown together initially, showed mixed results, but I was surprised to learn that it was successful enough that it continues to this day. Reportedly, the Korean War KATUSAs were, in many cases, the equal of U.S. soldiers.

Today, KATUSA positions are much sought after and awarded by very competitive tests. The ROKs want to be KATUSAs so they can learn English, the most important language for commerce in the world today. Each KATUSA has an American roommate.

They also prefer doing their mandatory 26 months of service in the U.S. Army to the ROK Army because the ROK Army has extremely severe discipline. Note that Korea has universal mandatory military service. See my article on the wisdom of a draft.

So why have we not tried this or even considered it in Iraq? The Iraqi troops seem similarly undisciplined. Soldiers fight almost entirely for their buddies. This was sometimes called a “buddy system” in Korea. I am not sure it would work in Iraq. Trusting Iraqis with so much information about Americans might result in betrayal. But it seems worth a try.

We did not use it in Vietnam. We relied on Vietnamization instead. Vietnamization was a total failure. Iraqization seems to be a similar failure so far.

John T. Reed

Link to information about John T. Reed’s Succeeding book which, in part, relates lessons learned about succeeding in life from being in the military

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