UIJEONGBU, South Korea - The mercury hovers at 12 degrees as snow silently falls through the Korean night. A Georgia National Guard member makes tracks through the six-inch snow, her breath steaming in the frigid air.
Reaching her duty station, she passes through security and is ushered into a world of frenetic activity. She joins a room of battle-staff members who are busy tracking convoy movement while coordinating air and sustainment assets and plotting fire missions in support of troops-in-contact. It may be 2 a.m. on a frigid December day, but she and nearly 90 soldiers of the 648th Maneuver Enhancement Brigade are running 24-hour operations in support of the 2nd Infantry Division, the only permanently forward-deployed combat division in the U.S. Army.
While Georgia National Guard members at home were celebrating the 377th birthday of the National Guard, Headquarters Company of the 648th MEB was participating in Warpath III near Seoul, South Korea. Warpath III is an annual combined command-post exercise conducted by the 8th Army, 2nd Infantry Division, and Republic of Korea Army. Designed to enhance readiness and coordination, this year's exercise involved more than 5,000 Republic of Korea soldiers and U.S. forces from on and off the Korean Peninsula. Warpath III is the largest exercise conducted on the Korean Peninsula since the armistice of 1953.
"We are the crucial link between the point of the spear and the corps during the war fight," said Col. Scott Carter, commander of the 648th MEB. "In this exercise, we conducted area distribution center operations to support the front line of troops and were prepared to conduct follow-on missions on-order from the 2nd Infantry Division commander."
The 648th MEB was tasked by the 2ID with operating a logistical supply area (LSA) and providing command and control for seven battalions during the computer simulated exercise. The MEB performed so well at its initial LSA assignment that it was ordered by the commanding general to establish a second LSA even closer to the front line and operate two LSAs simultaneously.
Spc. Kwaderrian Rouland, 20, a geospatial engineer from Americus, Ga., was on his first overseas assignment and found himself responsible for manning the engineering station on the night shift.
"This has been a great opportunity for me to expand my knowledge of the engineering branch beyond geospatial engineering," said Rouland, who joined the Georgia National Guard right out of high school. "My first overseas assignment and I am helping train with an active-duty Army division."
Sitting next to Rouland was Master Sgt. Kevin Neal, 55, a veteran of active duty and Guard deployments who was serving as the noncommissioned officer in charge of military police operations for the night shift.
"Our job is to anticipate the questions and resource requirements of lower echelon units," said Neal, a resident of Covington, Ga. "We are getting a lot of value out of this exercise."
"What we learn here applies in Afghanistan and at home during natural disasters," said Carter. "This mission will grow our junior leaders. If our [captains] and NCOs are much better than when they got here, then our mission will have been a success."
At the conclusion of the exercise, the soldiers were afforded the opportunity to visit Seoul and learn about the history of the Korean War during a staff ride for the battle of Chipyong-ni. The soldiers also traveled to Paju and Observation Post Dora on the Demilitarized Zone separating North and South Korea. From OP Dora, the guard members looked down on the snowy fields and darkened buildings of Kaesong, North Korea, and later descended 300 meters in a tunnel dug by North Korea beneath the DMZ. The North Korean tunnel, one of four to have been discovered traveling beneath the DMZ, is large enough to accommodate the movement of 30,000 soldiers per hour.
The 648th MEB became operational in 2007 and deployed elements to Afghanistan in 2011. The symbol of the 648th MEB is the Hydra, a mythological serpent with three heads.
"The three-headed hydra symbolizes the military police, chemical, and engineering capability of the MEB," said Lt. Col. Reginald Neal, deputy commander for the 648th MEB.
The Hydra soldiers who participated in Warpath III represented more than 20 military service specialties. The soldiers came from more than 60 different Georgia communities representing all regions of the state.
"We appreciated the opportunity to be here to assist the 2nd Infantry Division with Warpath III," said Maj. James Collie, operations officer of the 648th MEB." "We hope to be able to work with the division again in the future."