Jeffrey Miller

A Writer's Life

My 2001 interview with Lt. Gen. Russel L. Honoré — Part 2

It doesn’t take long for the young men and women who are assigned to the 2ID to feel part of the team, either. Honoré pointed out that although these young men and women are here without their families, they are not here without relatives. He reminds them that they join a family when they come to the 2ID. 

“We got that ‘Hooah’ thing going on all the time. And you hear us say it all the time,” explained Honoré.

‘Hooah’ is a term heard often in the 2ID. It’s a multipurpose, magical word that can mean just about anything, but more often than not is used to express something good.  

“Although the soldiers come to Korea from other great units, it doesn’t take them long after they’ve arrived in Korea to know that they are with the best,” he said.  He also had much praise for the sergeants who take many of these young soldiers under their wings, which is reminiscent of the Spartan army where senior warriors took junior warriors on.  

“Our sergeants are the keepers of the standard,” said Honoré. “By golly, we have great sergeants here. That’s what makes serving in Warrior Country so ‘Hooah!’” 

The 2ID, which first saw action in Korea during the Pusan Perimeter in the summer of 1950, came to Korea with a distinguished history and service record. The division, one of the few active units organized on foreign soil, was formed on October 26, 1917 at Bourmont, France. During WWII, the division landed at Omaha Beach on D-Day + 1. The division would prove itself time and time again as the “Indianheads” blasted their way through the hedgerows of Normandy to liberate the vital port of Brest, and later played an important role during The Battle of the Bulge. 

The first big test for the 2ID during the Korean War came when the North Koreans struck in a desperate human-wave attack on the night of August 31, 1950. In the 16-day battle that followed, the division’s clerks, bandsmen, technical and supply personnel joined in the fight. Later, the division would be the first unit to break out of the Pusan Perimeter.  

However, disaster would befall the division as it raced toward the Yalu River. The Chinese intervention in the conflict spelled disaster for the 2ID at Kunu-ri, where the division lost nearly one-third of its strength. After withdrawing south, the division repulsed a powerful Chinese offensive at Chipyong-ni and Wonju in February 1951.  

Following these battles, the division would continue to prove itself in battle until the end of the war. This strong sense of history is not lost on the soldiers who are assigned to the 2ID.  

“Here you have a unit that is forward deployed on the same ground it fought on during the Korean War. Almost anywhere you go in our area of operations you can make reference to a historic battle that the division was probably involved in,” explained Honoré. “You can say the same thing about the ROK Army here. If you go up to many of these ROK divisions, many of them fought on this same ground.”  

Following the Korean War, the Division would be deployed back to the States, but would return to Korea in 1965. During this time North Korea increased border incursions and infiltration attempts and the 2ID was called upon to help halt these attacks. On November 2, 1966 six soldiers of the 1st Battalion, 23rd Infantry were killed in an ambush by North Korean forces. The following year, another 16 American soldiers were killed.  

In August 1976, the division took part in Operation Paul Bunyan in response to the Panmunjom ax murder incident, when North Korean soldiers in the JSA killed two American officers.  

Today, the division continues to serve an important role as part of the ROK-U.S. alliance.  

With more than 14,000 personnel assigned to it, maintaining good community relations with when soldiers are off-duty is of the utmost importance. Unfortunately, incidents involving U.S. service members with Koreans have, when they occurred, created a negative image of the military and fueled anti-American sentiment.  However, as Honoré pointed out, given the number of personnel assigned to the 2ID, the likelihood of anything happening is “quite low.”  

“Things do happen, and when they do, we try to resolve the issue at the lowest level possible,” he said. “We have a close relationship with the local government. If something should occur, contact is made immediately with local officials to ensure not only transparency, but also to resolve the issue promptly by the SOFA.”  

In addition to the SOFA, Honoré stressed that the Uniform Code of Military Justice system and good leadership from NCOs and junior officers are not only strong safeguards, but work to resolve any issues at the lowest level.  Then there’s the division’s good neighbor policy with local communities, involving it in many community outreach programs. For example, the division supports more than 10 orphanages in the area. Also, this past Arbor Day, soldiers planted more than 1,100 trees. In the past soldiers have helped the farmers harvest rice. Others are participating in the Habitat for Humanity program.  

“We want to be known as good neighbors,” explained Honoré, who regularly meets with local officials.  

In times of disaster the division is ready to lend a helping hand, whether with manpower or equipment. Recently, soldiers assisted farmers in Tongduchon to pump more than 500,000 gallons of water into fields during one of the worst droughts to hit the peninsula.  Honoré believes this sends a strong message to local communities that the division is not just here to maintain peace and stability in the region, but also to help out people in time of need. 

 Being a good neighbor also means being environmentally conscious. The division is constantly working on the enduring problem of infrastructure. There are also “environmental police” that routinely inspect work areas and do on-the-spot corrections and training. Honoré stressed that NCOs and junior officers also set a good standard by being good stewards of our environment.

“Soldiers today, more than at another time in our army, are environmentally smarter,” said Honoré. “If there’s a problem, we get it fixed. When something does happen, usually with our equipment, we put every resource we have to correct the situation.  

“I think local governments are pretty comfortable with us. If they point something out to us we get right on it and fix it. I think that has been a confidence-builder for them.”  

In addition to being environmentally conscious, Honoré talked about the importance of cooperation with local governments for training exercises. Without question, with four ROK corps and a U.S. division, it’s going to get loud now and again. Honoré likened the situation to having a guard dog in one’s backyard.  

“Every once in awhile it’s going to bark,” he said.  

Honoré had praise for the local governments who have supported the division. He pointed out that they always let the local governments or farmers know the areas they are going to be in.  

“This is the most dynamic civil-military operation I have seen in my life,” he said. “The Korean’s appreciation for what it takes to maintain this military and alliance is also second to none.  

“Last year during (operation) Foal Eagle, we went out in the middle of the night. We didn’t know that we were driving over some rice on the road. We paid the farmers for the rice that was lost and at the end of the training; we invited all the farmers over for a big dinner. We know that we are going to be an inconvenience at times, so, how do you compensate for that? By coordination and cooperation, as well as being respectful of people’s livelihood.”

 Whether it’s being prepared to fight tonight, ensuring good community relations or transparency in dealing with local governments, Honoré is proud to play an important role in the ROK – U.S. alliance.  

“It has been exciting serving here. It has been the most fulfilling experience I’ve ever been a part of,” said Honoré. “This isn’t a bad gig.”  

When our interview was over, the general was not about to let me leave without trying my hand one last time at the fine art of throwing a tomahawk.  On the first throw, I miss the target completely. The second one though hits the target with a resounding thump, a few inches from the bull’s-eye.  


1 Comment

  1. Great interview article. General Honore is a hero to soldiers and also to many Koreans as well. He and his soldiers serviced in Korea endured the hardship specially during the midst of fake anti-American movement was used as presidential election campaign strategy by a radical group supporting one of Korean presidential candidates. As a Korean ancestry, thanks to the leadership of General Honore as 2ID commander!

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