Republic of Korea Navy Lt. Bae, Jun-hee reviews scenario operational plans with Lt. Cmdr. Darrell Jones during Ulchi Freedom Guardian 2014. (U.S. Navy/MCC Wendy Wyman)

BUSAN, Republic of Korea - Each year the U.S. and Republic of Korea (ROK) navies engage in Ulchi Freedom Guardian (UFG), a computer-assisted exercise held at locations across the Republic of Korea. As a defense-oriented exercise, the training is designed to enhance operational readiness in protecting the Republic of Korea to help maintain stability in the region.

This year, 120 U.S. Navy reservists from multiple commands in the United States and the Pacific region, including detachments from Commander, U.S. Naval Force Korea (CNFK), supported the annual exercise by filling critical postions in the Combined Maritime Operations Center at Busan and other key support staff augmentations at Chinhae and Daegu.

“Navy reservists are absolutely essential to the combined operations on the Korean peninsula,” said Lt. Cmdr. Allen Grimes, Operational Support Officer at CNFK. “They bring a unique set of skills and perspective to a dynamic environment, and due to the high turnover rate in Korea, act as a conduit to bridge the knowledge gap between staffs.”

The computer assisted simulation is a tough and realistic training that focuses on preparing, preventing and responding to a full range of threats in the region. The purpose of this training is to improve the strategic, logistics and tactical integration during joint military operations between U.S. and ROK forces.

"These exercises are a rare opportunity to be able to interact directly with our Korean counterparts in a forward deployed environment," said Capt. Darren Hanson, vice commander of CNFK and commanding officer of approximately 300 assigned reservists based in CONUS. "We get to work side-by-side with these professionals, leverage our civilian skills, and experience a completely different culture and perspective."

All U.S. forces stationed on the Korean peninsula take part in UFG, joining together to create a combined force of more than 30,000 U.S. service members who are augmented by approximately 3,000 additional U.S. personnel from the U.S. and the Pacific region. The exercise scenarios help teach, coach and mentor service members from both countries on the planning and leadership decision-making processes that could occur during contingencies.

“Since the active duty U.S. Navy footprint in Korea is rather small, the reserve component plays a huge part in the exercise,” said Intelligence Specialist 1st Class Kevin Mullins, a reservist from CNFK Detachment Oscar. “Regardless of your knowledge of the Korean theater, you’re tasked and given the same responsibilities as your active duty counterparts. It’s incredibly challenging in the beginning, but ultimately very rewarding as long as you’re willing to stay flexible and work hard.”

First started in 1976, this annual exercise has evolved over the years and gone by several names. In 2008, the name was changed to Ulchi Freedom Guardian, after a famous Korean general of the ancient Goguryeo Kingdom named Ulchi Mundeok. The ancient general is legendary in Korean culture for his selfless service to his country. Ulchi Mundeok is known for overcoming a superior Chinese Sui Army, the superpower of its time, by uniting his soldiers for a key victory.

As UFG ends and reserve Sailors return to their homes, the victory may have only been a simulated one, yet many feel that the lessons learned and friendships forged will last a lifetime.