CAMP CASEY, South Korea — The commander of the 2nd Infantry Division said he has taken a number of steps in recent weeks to repair strained relations with South Korean officials stemming from a recent highly publicized rape case involving one of his soldiers, as well as to better educate his troops to discourage similar incidents from happening again.
Maj. Gen. Edward C. Cardon said Tuesday that since the incident, he has done all he can to “reinforce the buddy system” and respect for the chain of command; reached out to South Korean police, government officials and women’s organizations to improve relations with the community; and taken steps to better coordinate law enforcement patrols of entertainment districts near U.S. bases to better identify at-risk soldiers who have had too much to drink.
Looking ahead, Cardon said, “something we need to look at” is how to “undo the drinking culture … (and) the excessive use of alcohol here,” which played a role in Pvt. Kevin Lee Flippin’s rape of a 17-year-old Korean girl.
Whatever is done, he said, cannot be “reactionary,” but rather more of a “steady drumbeat” of reinforcing warnings about the dangers of alcohol and lessons on how to drink responsibly.
It was just days after Cardon took command that Flippin, 21, of the 2ID’s 6th Battalion, 37th Field Artillery Regiment, was arrested in connection with the Sept. 24 rape of a girl near Camp Casey in Dongducheon.
Flippin was sentenced to 10 years in prison after admitting to repeatedly raping the girl during a four-hour ordeal during which he also punched and slapped the victim in the face, stole a small amount of money from her wallet, dragged her across the room, threatened her with a knife and pair of scissors and burned her breast with a lighter, among other things, according to court records and testimony. The defendant has since appealed his sentence.
The Flippin case, in addition to several other recent violent incidents involving U.S. servicemembers here, prompted protests by South Koreans and calls for changes to the status of forces agreement that some believe gives American soldiers charged with crimes too much protection in their dealings with the Korean criminal justice system.
Cardon rejected a suggestion that serious crimes are an unfortunate byproduct to be expected when you put thousands of young adults together in places like college campuses or foreign military bases.
Soldiers, he said, should be held to a higher standard than the average citizen.
“We’re a different demographic,” he said. “We’re a professional fighting force. We’re expected to act in a disciplined manner when we’re on-duty … and we should be able to act in a disciplined manner when we’re off duty.
“(We) are ambassadors of the United States,” he said. “I have zero tolerance for sexual assault.”
In the wake of the Flippin case, U.S. Forces Korea commander Gen. James Thurman temporarily reinstated a curfew for all 28,500 American servicemembers on the peninsula, which remains in effect. Prior to that, troops in South Korea had not had a curfew since July of 2010 when Thurman’s predecessor, Gen. Walter Sharp, lifted one that had been in effect for almost nine years.
Cardon said it was too early to say whether the curfew should be restored permanently because not enough time has passed to gauge its impact on the U.S. military community in South Korea.
Normally, he said, “I operate from a position of trust. I trust our soldiers to do the right thing”
He said the Flippin case, “is clearly not reflective of 99.9 percent” of how soldiers act.
Shortly after Flippin was arrested, and again after he was sentenced, the 2ID commander issued statements apologizing to the victim of the assault, her family and the Korean people. Cardon and other U.S. officials who issued apologies before Flippin went to court were criticized in some quarters for possibly infringing on the suspect’s right to a fair trial.
Cardon stood by his apologies this week.
“I have no problem with that,” he said. “There was no question what happened. The soldier confessed almost right away.”
Cardon said, “In (South Korean) society, apologizing is important” and a way to “mitigate some of the blow back we receive.”