S. Koreans get look at U.S. air base
December 10, 2003
YONGSAN GARRISON, South Korea — Kunsan Air Base officials opened the gates to local residents last week, hoping a closer look at their mission would help make up for noise issues and bombing ranges shared by U.S. and South Korean jets.
And judging by the reactions of some of those on the tour, the effort was a success.
“It was my first time in my whole life visiting the Air Force Base,” said Shin Dong-ho, a 60-year-old fisherman from nearby Bangchuk-do. “As a citizen of South Korea, I felt that we should know what they all do to defend this country, and their training must be inevitable in some sense.”
In years past, Shin has filed official complaints claiming noise from constant flights that left his house shaking, his children frightened and his fishery damaged. But after last week’s tour, which he called “valuable,” his opinion has changed slightly.
“We might have to put up with their noises to certain extent,” he said.
The tours have been done sporadically for the past few years, officials said.
The point is to educate residents on how U.S. and South Korean air forces work together, said Maj. Kim Song-kyu, who organized the participation of the Republic of Korea Air Force’s 38th Fighter Group.
Including local area leaders, farmers and fisherman about 70 South Koreans were invited this year, Kim said.
“As requested, we want to expand our assistance for them. Our effort to help them when they suffered from typhoon Maemi this year was pretty successful,” he said, referring to the devastating typhoon which struck southern and central South Korea earlier this fall.
“But what they loved the most was maybe the photos we took for each of them. Sitting in a F-5 [jet] to have their photo taken must have been something for them,” Kim said.
Along with static displays of South Korean F-5s and U.S. F-16s, area residents were taken to the control tower and the “hush house,” a sound-insulated hangar where jet engine repairs and tests are conducted, 8th Fighter Wing public affairs officer Capt. Krista Carlos said.
“It was pretty impressive experience,” said Paik Jung-tu, a 63-year-old farmer. “I didn’t have any good feelings toward the air base before, but I feel like I have some kind of bond with them now. The way they work for this country was nice and their good-mannered attitude looked awesome.”
Kunsan is home to the U.S. Air Force’s 8th Fighter Wing, which in 2001 passed a milestone of 300,000 F-16 flight-hours since the aircraft deployed here in 1981, officials said.
Wing pilots flew more than 227,522 sorties, an average of 29 sorties every day for 21 years. And ranges on islands near Kunsan are used “fairly regularly,” officials said.