WASHINGTON — Air Force Gen. John Jumper said the conditions for airmen in South Korea have “dramatically improved” in recent years, but officials need to deal soon with aging barracks and schoolhouses to keep that up.

Jumper’s comments came as members of the House Appropriations Committee reviewed quality- of-life issues for airmen. About 9,000 airmen and 32,000 other U.S. military personnel are currently stationed in South Korea.

Jumper credited the improvement largely to changes around Seoul since the city hosted the Winter Olympics in 1988.

“We’ve seen the Korea peninsula become much more metropolitan,” he said. “We have families over there and enjoying their time over there. I think a lot of those quality-of-life issues are things we’ve overcome.”

Fred Kuhn, acting assistant secretary for Air Force installations and logistics, said he believes servicemembers are more comfortable with the services and environment around Air Force bases there, and so are their families.

Both officials said they anticipate further addressing the aging facility problems as part of the upcoming 2006 defense budget, but noted that the impending move of U.S. military forces out of Seoul will complicate those issues.

Jumper told the committee that family happiness and other quality of life issues are “absolutely vital” to force readiness, because they allow airmen to focus on their missions and not outside-of-work problems.

In that respect, he said, the improvements in South Korea have been important changes.

“Now it’s a place where people will bring their families,” he said.

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