South Korea, 2nd ID form group to boost safety, communication
CAMP RED CLOUD, South Korea — At his rural home just south of the Demilitarized Zone, Chong Yun-kyo hears the sounds of war.
But the noise isn’t coming from the North.
It’s the chattering of machine guns from attack helicopters, the booming of tank barrels and popping of mortars and artillery from the Rodriguez Live Fire Complex, the centerpiece of U.S. 8th Army field training.
For U.S. soldiers, the range affords an opportunity to practice with the equipment they’d use in combat.
For Chong, it’s a colossal headache. He said years of explosions and vibrations have created innumerable cracks in his house and barn — about a quarter-mile from the range — in addition to producing intolerable noise.
“They are here to save our lives, but we can’t live like this,” Chong said. “They are wearing bulletproof vests and helmets when they are training, but we have nothing to protect ourselves.”
He and four others plan to file a $127,000 property damage claim, which includes the accusation that noise generated in March from artillery rounds caused 11 pigs to miscarry, according to information from the Kyonggi province.
Chong is angry and wants the training range moved. But the country has few places where both U.S. and South Korean armies can train, given its high-population density and mountainous terrain.
None of the residents has been compensated, said Kim Ho-kyung, head of Woonsan-ni village. But 2nd Infantry Division officials recently visited the small town near the range and surveyed some damage, Kim said.
A claim first is reviewed by a special South Korean government compensation committee, which sends it to the Justice Ministry for approval, said Lee Ferguson, USFK spokeswoman. The Justice Ministry then passes it to the Army for consideration, Ferguson added.
With U.S. Army posts dotting the South Korean countryside, many South Koreans see U.S. soldiers driving through their areas on the way to training. There has been friction: Residents complain of noise and damage and have safety concerns.
In June, a 2nd ID convoy traveling between training areas crushed two 13-year-old South Korean girls, sparking dozens of protests against the U.S. military presence in South Korea.
Maj. Gen. John Wood, the 2nd ID commander, is trying to improve relations by convening a new council designed to work through problems.
“It’s something he initiated to create close ties with the local community,” said Maj. Brian Maka, division spokesman.
South Korean civic leaders from Kyonggi province and division officials first met in early November and again Dec. 23, said Lee Se-jong, assistant director of the local administrative management for a Kyonggi province government offices.
The Korean-American Partnership Council has 36 members, split between Army and civic leaders. It includes Kyonggi Vice Gov. Chae Sun-shik.
The council is “an opportunity to exchange issues of concern between both sides,” said Maj. Tom Whitaker, deputy assistant chief of staff for civil military operations.
The group’s Dec. 23 agenda included maneuver damage, safety precautions, advance notice of training, noise problems and road improvements by the province. The council’s main goal, Lee said, is to prevent a recurrence of the June accident.
“We are in the process of addressing each issue and will then meet back during the month of January and exchange the results of each side’s investigation or analysis of those issues,” Whitaker said.
Kyonggi officials also hope to refine damage claim procedures, Lee said. In August, Lee’s office opened a consulting center to help South Koreans file claims and report damage by U.S. Forces Korea.