KATUSA - Korean Augmentation Troop to the United States Army

  • History - The KATUSA program started in 1950 as an honorable gentlemen's agreement betweeb President of the ROK (Republic of Korea), Syngman Rhee, and General of the Army Douglas McArthur. The program was formed to assist the United States Army in combat against North Korea agression. The Army considered the KATUSA soldier an invaluable part of the war, augmenting both the Second Infantry Division (2ID) and the Eigth Army.
  • Today - Today the KATUSA still lives and works with G.I.s throughout South Korea. KATUSAs are ROKA (Republic of Korea Army) soldiers that are transfered to United States Army (only) units and recieve OJT (On the Job Training). They conduct 6 weeks of Basic Training and 3 weeks of orientation and customs training for working and living with U.S. soldiers. A KATUSA soldier must be able to speak english, and the cost of schooling means many KATUSAs come from families that are financially secure. The ROKA is notoriously tough and disciplined, and many KATUSAs admittedly joined the program because they heard working with G.I.s was easier.
  • Because military service is mandatory for Korean males, they earn a "tokenized wage" of approximately $10 a month, at base level. It increases to no more than around $20 for Sergeants. The U.S. military provides food, clothing, and residence as a token of appreciation for their work. The KATUSA is a great program that strengthens the bonds between the United States and the Republic of Korea. Even though many KATUSAs admit they hope for reunification one day, they know this is impossible peacefully, and therefore dutifully serve with the United States of America. KATUSAs serve a 2 year term, with automatic promotions eventually to the rank of Sergeant. They have no say in the MOS (Military Occupation Specialty) they are assigned.

When KATUSAs reach their assigned duty station, which will be their duty station until they ETS (leave the Army), they are on "baby" status for 3 weeks. At all times, even off times, they are at the position of attention. They only move or talk when told or spoken to. If a KATUSA NCO touches them or calls their name, the "baby" KATUSA sounds off with his name, rank, and response. After 3 weeks, they are allowed to relax, but these first 3 weeks are very stressful for the new KATUSAs, especially since they are attacked and teased by G.I.s and KATUSAs alike.

Rank Pronunciation:

  • "Baby" - Shim Byung
  • PV2 (1 Stripe) - E Byung
  • PFC (2 Stripes) - Il Byung
  • CPL (3 Stripes) - Sang Byung
  • SGT (4 Stripes) - Byung Jang

I taught KATUSAs English, which means we sat around a table and just talked. I answered questions about America and Americans, and they answered about Korea and Koreans. I asked them about North Korea, and their opinions. It went something like this:

"I hear a lot of Koreans want to see reunification. Do you guys feel the same way?"

There was a slight hesitation.

"Kim, what do you think?" And he replied, "Yes, I believe they should."

Imagine my surprise. I asked him, "Why?" and he replied, "Because we are... one people..", I said, "They're your brethren, brothers..?" "Yes."

I was honestly surprised. I looked around the table at the other KATUSAs. "Do you all feel the same way?"

Nods, north and south.

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