CAMP HUMPHREYS, South Korea — This small American city has four schools and five churches, an Arby’s, a Taco Bell and a Burger King. The grocery store is offering a deal on Budweiser as the temperature soars, and out front there’s a promotion for Ford Mustangs.
But for all its invocations of the American heartland, this growing town is in the middle of the South Korean countryside, in an area that was famous for growing huge grapes.
“We built an entire city from scratch,” said Col. Scott W. Mueller, garrison commander of Camp Humphreys, one of the U.S. military’s largest overseas construction projects. If it were laid across Washington, the 3,454-acre base would stretch from Key Bridge to Nationals Park, from Arlington National Cemetery to the Capitol.
“New York has been a city for 100-some years, and they’re still doing construction. But the majority of construction here will be done by 2021,” Mueller said. (New York was actually founded nearly 400 years ago.)
The U.S. military has been trying for 30 years to move its headquarters in South Korea out of Seoul and out of North Korean artillery range.
Since the end of World War II, the military has been based at Yongsan, a garrison that had been the Imperial Japanese Army’s main base during Japan’s occupation of the Korean Peninsula. It is in the middle of Seoul and just 40 miles from the demilitarized zone that separates the two Koreas.
The South Korean and American governments have been talking since 1987 about moving the headquarters away from Yongsan, but political and funding issues had slowed the process. Protests broke out a little over a decade ago when Pyeongtaek, a sleepy rural city 40 miles south of Yongsan, was chosen as the new site.
Now, the $11 billion base is beginning to look like the garrison that military planners envisaged decades ago.
The 8th Army moved its headquarters here this month,…