By Lee Chi-dong
PYEONGTAEK, Gyeonggi Province, July 11 (Yonhap) -- A key unit of the U.S. forces in South Korea opened its new headquarters at the sprawling Camp Humphreys garrison Tuesday, as the base relocation is accelerating after a decade of delay.
It marked the end of the Eighth Army's 64-year presence at the Yongsan base in central Seoul and the start of a footprint at Camp Humphreys in Pyeongtaek, a port city some 70 kilometers south of Seoul.
U.S. Forces Korea (USFK) has been expanding Humphreys under a 2004 deal with South Korea, turning it into an operational hub for the 28,500 troops.
"The $10.7-billion-dollar project dramatically increased the size of U.S. Army Garrison Humphreys, making it the largest U.S. Army garrison overseas in the Department of Defense," Lt. Gen. Thomas S. Vandal, commander of the Eight Army, said during a ribbon-cutting ceremony. "Undoubtedly, the installation is the crown jewel of overseas installations in the Department of Defense."
In the ceremony, a 10-foot-tall bronze statue of Gen. Walton H. Walker, a Korean War hero, was unveiled. It was moved to the Eighth Army's new home from the Yongsan Garrison.
Vandal pointed out there were more than 170 American military camps and other installations across South Korea in the early 2000s. The USFK has been closing many of the bases, including those near the inter-Korean border, as part of the relocation project.
Initially, the transition was slated for 2008 but was delayed until 2012, then to 2016 as the USFK pushed for "conditions-based" relocation linked to progress in construction and the establishment of crucial systems such as the so-called C4I -- command, control, communication and intelligence.
Vandal said 80 percent of the construction is complete and the rest is expected to finish within the next 12 to 18 months.
Some facilities including a small arms range and a fuel storage facility were seen still under construction.
The commander said the bulk of U.S. forces here will move into Humphreys by 2020.
"Once complete in 2020, the transformation will reflect the enduring commitment of both the ROK (South Korea) and U.S. governments to this great alliance," he said. "It will also greatly enhance our quality of life, our force protection and ultimately - our readiness to fight tonight."
He repeatedly used the word "state-of-the-art" while introducing new facilities.
Camp Humphreys features apartment-style barracks, family housing, schools, top-class amenities, cutting-edge vehicle maintenance facilities and even a 2-kilometer-long runway for C-130 transport planes and other aircraft excluding fighter jets.
Col. Kimeisha Y. McCullum, director of the Eighth Army's public affairs office, said her unit's relocation is "historical."
"It shows we, the Eight Army, are here and (the USFK's) transformation is truly under way," she said.
The ribbon-cutting event was attended by more than 300 dignitaries including Paik Sun-yup, a retired Korean general and honorary Eighth Army commander, Gen. Leem Ho-young, deputy commander of the Combined Forces Korea, and Yi Sang-chul, first deputy director of the presidential National Security Office.
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