Bell: Yongsan will get better at catering to families
YONGSAN GARRISON, South Korea — When U.S. Forces Korea commander Gen. B.B. Bell makes “community visits,” to his bases, he asks residents for the good, bad and ugly.
He got a dose of all three conditions Thursday when he toured Area II’s Yongsan Garrison. It was his first official tour of the garrison that hosts his headquarters.
He started the day the same way all incoming servicemembers do when they arrive on the peninsula: by visiting the 1st Replacement Company.
Company commander Capt. Tomiko Ballard explained the process, from greeting the incoming personnel and their families, to briefing them on life in South Korea, to sending them to their various units.
Bell said USFK has the “world’s worst” program for welcoming family members, something he wants changed as quickly as possible. For years, he explained, South Korea has been thought of as a “single-soldier post.” But as the military transforms, more family members will follow their soldiers here, and embracing those families is a high priority, Bell explained.
During a visit to the Army Community Services, Bell discussed the sticky issue of inadequate housing at the nearby Hannam Village, where the U.S. military leases housing from the Korean National Housing Corporation. Residents have complained about sewage backups, insect problems and water leaks.
The problem, officials told Bell on Thursday, is that the Korean company doesn’t want to invest money into fixing the buildings since USFK says it’s going to move from Seoul in the next few years.
Area II commander Col. Ron Stephens told Bell that part of the solution is to withhold payments for the units vacated because of the unsatisfactory conditions.
“Our intent is not to pay for what we don’t use,” Stephens said.
Bell said he could bring the issue to the local or national government.
The general also applauded an effort to bring a South Korean visa office into the ACS building, saying it would be beneficial to the community.
He also visited with high school students, Better Opportunities for Single (and unaccompanied) Soldiers program members and Child and Youth Services.
He said the visits are a way to stay in touch with what the people want.
Each visit allows him to “cut out the layers of command that normally would be between me and the rubber meeting the road … [It] gives me a chance to see, up close, the degree to which I’m being successful in making sure that the environment here is wholesome, healthy and we’re providing the services that we need to,” Bell said.