2nd ID commander mulls curfew, drinking changes
Stars and Stripes November 26, 2009
SEOUL — The curfew would be lifted, the drinking age would be lowered to 19, and rules on blood-alcohol limitations would be eliminated for servicemembers in South Korea under a sweeping proposal the new commander of the 2nd Infantry Division says he is considering.
Maj. Gen. Michael Tucker stressed that while “no decisions have been made,” a team of military officials has been putting together a plan that would give individual servicemembers more freedom — but also more responsibility — for their off-base actions.
For example, he said, they would be subject to a “three strikes” policy of escalating punishment for any transgressions.
The proposed policy changes first would have to be approved by U.S. Forces Korea Commander Gen. Walter Sharp and 8th Army Commander Lt. Gen. Joseph Fil before they could be implemented, he said.
“We’re changing a culture” that has existed for years in Korea, Tucker said, where soldiers routinely “go downtown and get pickled” before “stumbling back to the barracks.”
By relying on rules to regulate that behavior, he said, “we’re reinforcing failure every day.”
“What we’re doing right now is not working,” Tucker continued.
Policy changes under discussion would force soldiers to be responsible for their actions, he said. “We have to educate them,” he said. “We want them to think.”
Tucker unveiled elements of his carrot-and-stick proposal before about 150 people Tuesday at a 2nd ID Family Readiness Group quarterly meeting at the Dragon Hill Lodge at Yongsan Garrison. He assumed command last month of the division, which includes about 10,000 of the 28,500 servicemembers stationed in South Korea.
At present, USFK personnel are subject to a 3 a.m. to 5 a.m. curfew on weekends and a midnight to 5 a.m. curfew on weeknights. The drinking age for servicemembers is 21, while the drinking age in South Korea is 19. Servicemembers can be tested at any time and are not allowed to register a blood-alcohol content over 0.10. (Servicemembers would still have to obey the laws of South Korea when it comes to driving while intoxicated.)
Tucker called those base regulations a “trifecta of land mines soldiers fall into” that can derail military careers.
Under the proposal being considered, the changes would be the subject of a six-month trial period, he said.
“The three-strikes rule is going to get the bad apples,” Tucker said.
Another element of the proposal would be to encourage servicemembers to use their off-time hitting the books rather than hitting the bars. It would allow letting them off work early a few days each week if they are enrolled in college courses or if they were otherwise furthering their education, Tucker said. The goal, he said, “is giving these kids alternatives.”
Tucker said he hopes the “Warrior University” proposal leads to a sharp increase in the number of courses being offered, with classes being held in motor pools and the like — “any place there’s a blackboard.”
“This is a campaign,” he said. “We’re going to get this fixed.”