The United States Army’s 2nd Infantry Division

13 February, 2013

From VOA Learning English, welcome to AS IT IS!

Hello I’m Jim Tedder in Washington.  Today, we will be turning our eyes to the sky in search of a visitor from another world.  We’ll also hear more about disputes in the South China Sea.  Who owns the area, and why is it so valuable?

But first, we’re off to the Korean peninsula to visit with the United States Army’s 2nd Infantry Division.  17,000 soldiers are based near the line that divides North Korea from South Korea.  Their job is to defend the South, if the North ever invades.  Caty Weaver tells us what very few citizens ever get to to see.

Those are special United States army tanks called Abrams. Four of them are rolling across the frozen ground of the Rodriguez Live Fire Range. The tanks are being used in a high level qualification exercise.

The tanks move into position and fire their 120 millimeter cannons. The loud explosions can be heard for kilometers.

If North Korea invaded, the Abrams of Dragon Company would stand between one of the largest armies in the world and millions of civilians in and around Seoul, South Korea.

Battalion commander Lt. Colonel Matthew Holly explains how the tank crews are being judged during this test.

“The time it takes to acquire the target, the time to shoot the target and then accuracy wise. For tanks it’s pretty easy. They either fire and hit it, and it goes down, or they missed, in which case they re-fire.”

Of course, he says, re-fires result in a loss of points from the total score. The platoon hits all 18 targets on first attempts. The Division’s Commander, Major General Edward Cardon, praises the troops.

“That’s exactly the kind of formations that we need that are a strong, credible deterrent.”

The 2nd Infantry is one of the most honored divisions in the American Army. It was the first to reach the Korean Peninsula after the northern army invaded the south in 1950. The 2nd Infantry has been guarding near the demilitarized zone since 1956.

It is also unusual because foreign soldiers are a part of it. About 1,000 South Korean soldiers are in the Division. General Cardon thinks it is a meaningful combination.

“When you have the blood and treasure of the United States committed with the blood and treasure of (South) Korea, together that is a powerful symbol of unity that, I think, has helped the deterrence and the stability of this region of the world for decades.”

Currently, the United States has wartime operational control of all forces in South Korea. But South Korea will take over that duty by the end of 2015. However, the United States has no plans to lower American troop levels in Korea, as it has in Iraq, and is expected to in Afghanistan.  I’m Caty Weaver.

If you were to sail south from the Korean peninsula about 3,000 kilometers and then turn to the right as you pass Taiwan, you would find yourself in the South China Sea.  It is an area that may be rich in oil and natural gas.  Many countries, including the Philippines, say it belongs to them.  While Chinese navy ships watch over the area, the Philippine government has decided to let a United Nations court have its say.  Karen Leggett tells us more.

The Philippines wants to defend its territory before an international court. Gilbert Asuque is the Philippines’ assistant secretary for ocean concerns.

“We want the arbitral tribunal to establish the rights of the Philippines to exclusively exploit the resources in our continental shelf in the West Philippine Sea.”

But China says the Philippines’ move makes the dispute more difficult.

Hong Lei is a spokesman for the Chinese Foreign Ministry.  Hong Lei says China has the right to rule over its own land and waters in the South China Sea.  He says, “The root of the dispute is caused by the Philippines’ illegal occupation of some of the Chinese areas.”

Justin Logan is a foreign policy expert at the CATO Institute in Washington, D.C.  He says China did not want the United Nations to be involved at all.  China also does not want help from the alliance of South East Asian Nations. China says it is working to resolve many claims to areas in the South China Sea through negotiations.

“The Chinese have been trying as much as possible to keep this bilateral between itself and all the disputed parties and to prevent it from being internationalized in a systematic way.”

Even if the U.N. court rules for the Philippines, Mister Logan questions who would enforce the decision and how.  China’s plans for the South China Sea were part of the recent confirmation hearings for John Kerry.  Mr. Kerry became America’s new secretary of state last week.

He says China is concerned about the increasing number of American forces in the Asia-Pacific area.  I’m Karen Leggett.

It’s coming.  Oh, it is surely coming.  It is flying through space and it is headed our way.  It is an asteroid, a huge rock that will pass by us tomorrow.  Scientists at the American space Agency, NASA, are calling it 2012 DA14.  They say it is about 45 meters across.

Asteroids fly by the earth all the time.  But this one is special.  It will come closer than even our orbiting weather and communications satellites.  As it speeds by earth, it will be only 28,000 kilometers away.  If you live in Europe, Asia, or Africa, you may be able to see it if you have binoculars or a telescope.

When 2012 DA14 zooms by, it will be traveling nearly eight kilometers per second.  That is ten times faster than a bullet shot from a gun.  So you are probably wondering, “Wait a minute.  Is this thing dangerous?  Could it hit us?  Is this the big one?  Is life, as we know it, on earth about to come to an end,” like in the movies?

“The close approach of this object 2012 DA14, on February 15th is nothing to worry about.  Its orbit is very well known.  We know exactly where it is going to go, and it cannot hit the Earth.”

Whew!  Well, I’m glad to hear it.  He ought to know.  He is Don Yeomans, head of NASA’s Near Earth Objects office.  He says much larger space rocks have crashed into our planet millions of years ago and caused terrible damage.  About a hundred years ago, an asteroid exploded over a forest in eastern Siberia, and trees for many kilometers were knocked flat.  It was a mess.

But this time, enjoy the view.  And don’t worry.

That is all the time we have for this edition of “As It Is.”  Thank you for spending some time with us.  Be sure to let us know what kinds of stories you would like us to talk about.