Old enough to kill, too young to drink?
On Nov. 1, U.S. Forces Korea raised the legal drinking age to 21 for its personnel – including troops, contract workers, civilians and family members. USFK officials said the change also applies when its personnel are off-base, although the legal drinking age in South Korea is 20.
Officials said offenders could face action under the Uniform Code of Military Justice. Those not subject to the UCMJ “could, as a minimum, have their privileges revoked,” according to a news release in late October.
“There is no good justification why the drinking age here should be different than it is in the U.S.,” Col. MaryAnn Cummings, USFK spokeswoman, said in the release. “An assignment or employment opportunity in Korea should not give special privileges with respect to alcohol over those in the states.”
But Sgt. Stephen Knabe, 24, of Gainsville, Texas, who serves with Company A, 602nd Aviation Support Battalion at Camp Eagle, South Korea, supported lowering the drinking age.
“I came in when I was 17,” he said. “I was in Korea the first time when I was 19. Drinking was pretty much what everyone was doing. I drank then but just stayed out of trouble.”
Spc. Timothy Foster, 25, of New York, who serves with Company C, 1st Battalion, 38th Field Artillery Regiment at Camp Stanley, South Korea, said a lot of younger soldiers he talked to felt that if they were old enough to die for their country they should be old enough to have a drink.
“It would probably help solve a lot of problems,” he said.
“The guys who are getting into trouble are in trouble because they are drinking [underage], not because they are causing problems,” he said.
But Spc. Kim Amburgey, 31, of West Virginia, who serves with the 106th Medical Detachment at Camp Red Cloud, South Korea, said the drinking age should not be lowered.
“I think at 19 a lot of people are still a little irresponsible and maybe not mature enough to get out and experience and handle alcohol,” she said.
Airman 1st Class Lee Nguyen, 24, of the 20th Operational Weather Squadron at Yokota Air Base, Japan, believes drinking-related incidents could be reduced by allowing underage servicemembers to consume alcohol inside the gates.
“On base, 18 years old would be fine,” he said Friday.
“As far as drinking off base, you should follow the local laws. But I’ve heard of commanders doing that — mostly overseas — lowering the drinking age on base.
“To me, if you’re old enough to fight for your country, you’re old enough to drink a beer. Besides, kids are gonna drink anyway.”
Airman 1st Class James McMorrow, 21, also of the 20th Squadron, pointed out that the U.S. legal limit is one of the highest limits in the world.
“I know kids who’ve been kicked out of the military for drinking underage,” he said. “That’s retarded.”
Reporters Teri Weaver, Hwang Hae-rym, Seth Robson and Vince Little contributed to this report.