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The 1st Marine Division deployed to Korea for the first time in over 20 years

Miguel Ortiz Avatar
ROK marines

In early March 2023, the 1st Marine Division, I Marine Expeditionary Force deployed to the Republic of Korea. The sailors and Marines from Camp Pendleton, California are set to participate in an exercise with the ROK Marine Corps named Freedom Shield 23 from March 13-23. This deployment marks the first time that the division’s headquarters element has deployed to the Korean Peninsula in over 20 years. 2023 also marks the 70th anniversary of the ROK-U.S. alliance.

marines at march air reserve base
Marines board a civilian aircraft at March Air Reserve Base, California bound for the Republic of Korea (U.S. Marine Corps)

The 1st Marine Division has a long history in Korea, battling Chinese forces and frostbite at the Chosin Reservoir during the Korean War. Since the 1953 Armistice, the U.S. Army has largely maintained America’s presence on the peninsula. However, with Marine Corps’ renewed focus on combat across the Indo-Pacific theater, Freedom Shield 23 demonstrates the Corps’ commitment to their ROK counterparts.

1st marine division at osan air base
Marines of Headquarters Battalion, 1st Marine Division arrive at Osan Air Base, Korea (U.S. Marine Corps)

“It’s an incredible experience to participate in this exercise and revitalize the relationship with our ROK counterparts,” Maj. Gen. Benjamin T. Watson, Commanding General, 1st Marine Division, said in a press release. “We must be ready to deploy and fight together at a moment’s notice. This exercise is the perfect opportunity to rehearse that with the 1st ROK Marine Division.”

1st marine division USNS Guam
USNS Guam (T-HST-1) transported Marines from Okinawa to the Republic of Korea for Freedom Shield 23 (U.S. Marine Corps)

Freedom Shield 23 is a defense-oriented exercise. Its purpose is to strengthen the ROK-U.S. alliance, enhance the combined defense posture, and improve stability and security on the Korean Peninsula. Throughout the exercise, the U.S. and ROK Marines will work together in a combined operations center. This enhances the realism of the exercise, mimicking how the two forces would work together in a real conflict. Together, they will rehearse command and control, tactical coordination of forces, and communication.

1st marine division and ROK marine generals
Senior U.S. and ROK Marine generals meet in the Republic of Korea (U.S. Marine Corps)

“Our Marines and Sailors are learning a lot, most importantly, how to integrate with the ROK Marines so we can learn from each other and improve how we fight,” Maj. Gen. Watson said. “We can accomplish far more as a combined team, and we’ve all worked to bring home some great lessons from this exercise.”