Drinking ban in Korea successful with no alcohol-related incidents
Bars in the Songtan Entertainment District outside Osan Air Base, South Korea, are seen June 24, 2014. Most establishments near the base were empty during the 7th Air Force's weekend-long alcohol ban for airmen on the Korean peninsula.
SEOUL, South Korea — The 7th Air Force called last weekend’s ban on drinking a “success,” with no alcohol-related incidents recorded during the 66-hour period.
The ban on alcohol purchase and consumption was in place for all airmen in South Korea from noon Friday through 6 a.m. Monday. Violators could have faced punishment under the Uniform Code of Military Justice.
Command spokeswoman Maj. Richelle Dowdell said the alcohol stand-down was successful because it gave airmen a chance to reflect on their mission, gave them “time to consider what we must do to change — not only as individuals but to promote a culture of responsible drinking,” and to explore off- and on-base activities.
And although most airmen regularly behave themselves, “it’s not a bad idea to occasionally reflect on our core values and our responsibilities as airmen,” she said in an email response. “Change will not come from the top down. Airmen must understand and embrace a responsible drinking culture that balances the privileges we all enjoy with the need to be ready to ‘Fight Tonight.’ ”
For now, there are no plans to extend the drinking ban, Dowdell said; however, commanders at all levels retain the authority to implement measures to ensure the health, welfare and mission readiness.
Lt. Gen. Jan-Marc Jouas, the 7th Air Force commander, announced the ban in an editorial published last Friday in the Crimson Sky, the command newsletter, saying an increasing number of serious alcohol-related injuries in recent months led to the decision.
“It’s not just three near-fatalities that drove this ban on drinking — it’s also the number of arrests for assault or drunk and disorderly conduct; the almost daily emergency room admissions for excessive drinking; the number of careers, marriages, and lives destroyed; and most critically, the impact on our mission and readiness to fight tonight,” the editorial said.
More than 100 Osan-based personnel, most of them airmen, were treated in emergency rooms for alcohol-related incidents in the past year, Dowdell said last week. Two airmen were medevaced to Seoul with extremely high blood-alcohol levels.
In the entertainment district outside Osan, a number of usually hopping bars were empty during the weekend, and taxis back to base — normally difficult to get on weekend nights — were plentiful.
Airman 1st Class Joe Fussell, who is stationed at Osan, said he thought the temporary drinking ban was fair, because if you “do something wrong, you should be punished for your actions.”
“I don’t think anything of it, because it was only for two days,” he said. “For me, it wasn’t the end of the world.”
Danny Choi, head of the Korea Foreigner Tourist Facility Association’s Songtan branch, which represents the entertainment and shopping district outside Osan, said that bar owners understand the purpose of the drinking ban, but even the single weekend of lost alcohol sales could prove financially devastating.
Many saw their weekend sales drop almost 90 percent; the lost revenue will hurt them when it comes time to pay their monthly rents.
“The servicemembers left the city and drank in other places because of the ban,” he said. “The local economy was hit hard beyond description.”
Stars and Stripes’ Armando R. Limon and Yoo Kyong Chang contributed to this story.