Sharp talks on family transition in S. Korea
July 24, 2009
SEOUL — As U.S. Forces Korea works to increase family-accompanied tours for troops, some soldiers say difficulties in finding child care and work opportunities for spouses in South Korea can put them in a financial pinch.
And for those who do find work, the cost of child care is sometimes more than their salary, soldiers at K-16 Air Base told the top U.S. general in South Korea on Wednesday.
Capt. Jonathan Schloicka said the lack of jobs particularly affects junior enlisted troops who depend on two incomes to make ends meet.
"They come to Korea, sir, and they can’t get by," Schloicka told U.S. Forces Korea commander Gen. Walter Sharp during a tour of the helicopter base.
Sharp said he was trying to make it easier for spouses to find jobs — in part by making it easier for them to search for available positions on the command’s Web site and in part by asking South Korean companies to hire them.
Sharp said he is working with the Korea Chamber of Commerce and Industry to recruit South Korean companies with branches in the U.S. for his employment-assistance program, which could be developed in six months. He declined to name the companies but said they were enthusiastic about the plan.
Their willingness to hire spouses, however, might be tempered by the poor worldwide economy, Sharp said.
"Realistically, Koreans are looking for jobs, too," he said.
Sharp said K-16 will remain open when most U.S. bases in and north of Seoul close, and their troops relocate to Pyeongtaek. Those bases are now scheduled to close in 2012, but South Korea and the U.S. have discussed delaying the move due to budget increases and construction delays at Humphreys.
"It’s going to be a small location, but a very, very important location," he said.
Even though K-16 is about 12 miles from the center of Seoul and U.S. Army Garrison-Yongsan, it might as well be a world away, according to some of the 650 U.S. soldiers who live there. The base has a small shoppette, and Sharp told troops that plans are under way to build a commissary, which is scheduled to open in October 2010.
The question of medical care also was raised at the gathering. K-16 has an on-call medic but no hospital.
Going to Yongsan for a routine dental appointment can take an entire workday, said installation coordinator Lt. Col. Matt Lewis.
"We’re like an outpost," he said. "It’s not the distance. It’s the traffic that separates us."
About 4,500 U.S. troops live in South Korea with their families. Of those, about 2,800 are command sponsored, meaning the military pays the cost of their families living here. Another 1,500 command-sponsored families are expected in South Korea by October 2010.
Twenty-one command-sponsored families and 78 non-command-sponsored families live at K-16 or in nearby off-post apartments.
Sharp also said Wednesday that he has not considered moving families of servicemembers off the peninsula, despite recent provocations by North Korea.
"They are not directly threatening South Korea to the point that I need to be concerned and start considering if I need to be moving families out of here," he said in response to a soldier’s question during his tour of the air base.