Col. Michael J. Taliento Jr. said two bars near Camp Humphreys are now off-limits to U.S. Forces Korea personnel because they provided alcohol to underage soldiers.

Col. Michael J. Taliento Jr. said two bars near Camp Humphreys are now off-limits to U.S. Forces Korea personnel because they provided alcohol to underage soldiers. (Christopher B. Stoltz / S&S)

SEOUL — About 300 South Korean merchants gathered outside Camp Humphreys’ gates Monday to demand Col. Michael J. Taliento’s resignation following his decision to place two local bars off-limits to soldiers.

In a phone interview early Monday evening, Taliento told Stripes he placed Duffy’s Club and the Bay Watch Club off-limits for serving alcohol to underage soldiers.

U.S. Forces Korea raised the legal drinking age for its personnel to 21 on Nov. 1, 2004. South Korea’s drinking age is 20. If off-base bars sell alcohol to underage USFK personnel, the command can place those bars off-limits.

Taliento said undercover Army Criminal Investigative Command agents tracked the violations several weeks ago as part of a joint crime suppression team with South Korean police.

“They basically monitored and evaluated the effectiveness of the ID-carding process,” Taliento said. He added, “We had told the community we would do these checks.”

“And like in the past … we found many clubs that were fully complying with conducting proper ID card checks,” he said. “We were very pleased to see that.”

But two were not, Taliento said, and they attended an Area III Armed Forces Disciplinary Control Board to explain their side of the story.

“Through the process, I made the decision to place these clubs off limits,” he said. Letters informing the club owners of the decision were sent Friday and the ban went into effect Monday.

Taliento met with an Anjung-ri Merchants Association official Monday afternoon to discuss the protest and community concerns.

South Korean news reports stated that merchants at the protest claimed Taliento was acting like an “occupying forces commander,” who was enforcing his own rules that affected the local economy.

One Anjung-ri business leader, who spoke to Stripes on the condition of anonymity late Monday night, said local merchants see Taliento’s enforcement efforts as overzealous, and want the U.S. military to replace him.

The merchants were to hold a 3 p.m. demonstration Tuesday outside the camp’s main gate to underscore their objections to Taliento, the business leader said.

Taliento said he understands how the anger could focus on him.

“I represent the command,” and have to “enforce the command policies and the law,” he said. But he stressed that he doesn’t have the authority to override USFK regulations.

The merchants claimed Taliento enforces a midnight, not 1 a.m. curfew, during weekend nights.

He said that’s not the case, but that his December decision to curtail late-night bus service on Humphreys may have led to that belief.

He said that discipline problems, including underage drinking, fighting and other misconduct were occurring on the buses, which were running until 2 a.m. Under current rules, the last bus runs from the main gate to the barracks area at midnight, meaning soldiers must either be on the bus, pay for a taxi or hike a couple of miles home late at night. But that doesn’t mean that they can’t stay out until 1 a.m., he said.

He’ll reinstate the old bus schedule provided “that we have in place a tenant commander support program that helps place leaders on the buses and around the installation where we have had cases of misconduct,” he added.

Taliento said he is confident the situation will be resolved through “communication and dialogue,” and will talk to association leaders this week.

“There needs to be a shared sense of ownership and responsibility,” in the support of these USFK policies, he said. “… It’s my hope that this will be resolved.

“These things are give and take, and I’ll continue to reach out and communicate with them and resolve this,” he said.

Franklin Fisher contributed to this report.

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