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SEOUL — The top military leader in South Korea wants to make it mandatory for family members to attend newcomer’s orientation briefings when arriving on the peninsula.

U.S. Forces Korea commander Gen. B.B. Bell told Stars and Stripes on Monday that he’s directing his staff to study the issue and hopes to offer some sort of policy or guidance in coming weeks.

Bell asked about the subject while visiting Camp Humphreys on Monday.

“It is vital that we get these family members in these” briefings, Bell said. “It’s our problem, not the spouses’ problem.”

Bell said he wants an aggressive program that will ensure the family members are educated on matters such as noncombatant evacuation operation exercises, cultural challenges and services provided on bases. Doing so, he said, should help curtail problems before they happen.

Briefings at bases across South Korea include classes on the U.S.-South Korea status of forces agreement, housing, employment opportunities, medical care, ration control and Korean culture and language.

Gina Mariano, relocation program manager for Area II, runs a three-day briefing for all incoming personnel. She said on average four or five spouses attend the briefing, offered monthly.

Her classes include base services on the first day, Korean language and culture on the second day and a trip into the local community on the final day. Participants wear civilian clothing all three days and child care is provided.

But even then, she said, not all those who sign up actually attend. About 50 to 60 per briefing are expected but actual monthly attendance has averaged just 20 to 25 people this year.

Bell said the Army has succeeded in getting family members through such programs in other areas of the world but a “whole new program” is required in South Korea.

Traditionally, he said, the emphasis in South Korea has been on the unaccompanied servicemember arriving on a one-year tour. But as the U.S. forces transform on the peninsula and troops start bringing more family members, it will be crucial to have them involved, he said.

Bell said he also wants spouses who are not command-sponsored in the briefings.

“We have got to get this turned around,” he said.

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