Bad apples have airmen over a barrel at Kunsan
PYEONGTAEK, South Korea — Kunsan Air Base’s commander said Wednesday he will continue restricting all servicemembers to the base until each understands the consequences of bad behavior.
About 2,000 airmen from the 8th Fighter Wing and 150 soldiers from the 35th Air Defense Artillery Brigade have been restricted to the base since Monday after two Air Force police officers and a civilian base worker allegedly beat a South Korean taxi driver and tried to steal his car earlier that morning.
Wing commander Col. Jeffrey Lofgren was too busy Wednesday to be interviewed by Stars and Stripes, according to spokesman Capt. James P. Lage.
Lofgren released a short written statement in which he explained that until all the servicemembers understand “that this kind of behavior is totally unacceptable … we will stay restricted.”
“I want the local community to have confidence and trust in our airmen,” Lofgren said in the statement. “We have a great relationship with the city of Kunsan and I want to ensure it stays that way.”
Lage said wing officials would use various means — which could include troop formations, e-mail messages and the base newspaper — to pass Lofgren’s message on.
The 48-year-old driver, Lee Ki-jung, remained hospitalized Wednesday at Kunsan Medical Center with extensive injuries. Police allege the three choked and punched him repeatedly.
Meanwhile, a South Korean activist group Wednesday issued an angry call for South Korean authorities to take custody of the two airmen, members of Kunsan’s 8th Security Forces Squadron.
The two are in custody at the base and have been relieved of normal police duties pending outcome of the case, but they have not been jailed, base officials have said.
“We strongly demand the Korean government should arrest the U.S. soldiers immediately to put them in … custody,” said Yoon Chul-soo of the Kunsan Civil Movement to Retake USFK Bases and Facilities. Yoon said the group is an umbrella organization composed of 15 civic groups in the Kunsan area.
The third suspect is a 23-year-old civilian who worked at the GNC health products store on base. He lives off base with his parents, Lage said.
Police on Wednesday said they are consulting with Air Force investigators to schedule questioning of the three suspects.
Lee has told Stars and Stripes he sustained nerve damage, severe facial bruises, a swollen face and neck, and other injuries to his head and knees.
Lofgren visited Lee on Monday and gave him a “solatium” payment of 1 million South Korean won (about $1,078). Such payments are provided for under the U.S.-South Korea status of forces agreement.
Lofgren also apologized Monday to Kunsan Mayor Moon Dong-shin and Korean National Police superintendent Kim Jong-kil.
Yoon said his organization wants Lofgren to apologize “not to the city mayor and the police, but to us.”
He said Lofgren should state publicly what measures the wing would take to prevent future incidents.
“How can we, Kunsan citizens, walk around our town at night feeling safe?” Yoon asked. “We no longer can. We can no longer tolerate such crimes. U.S. military personnel must stop abusing their SOFA status.”
Lage said the wing would have no immediate comment Wednesday on Yoon’s statements.
According to police, the three got into Lee’s cab in Kunsan city and asked to be driven to Jeonju city. About 20 minutes into the trip — and with the cab stopped — the three allegedly attacked Lee.
The three tried to make off with the cab but were unable to restart the engine and fled on foot, police said.
Police said Wednesday that they tracked down the three after finding a T-shirt allegedly belonging to the civilian and with his first and last name stitched on it.
Police checked the civilian’s cell phone records and got help from Air Force investigators at Kunsan to identify the two airmen who are suspects.
Hwang Hae-rym contributed to this report.