South Koreans in Pyeongtaek mixed on U.S. realignment plan
SEOUL — Four out of 10 South Koreans in the Pyeongtaek area have favorable or very favorable feelings about the future U.S. military presence in this port city about 40 miles south of Seoul, according to a survey recently released by a South Korean government think tank.
Of 1,000 people surveyed in Pyeongtaek in April, 41.9 percent said they have a positive perception of the American military’s planned growth, which will relocate U.S. headquarters from Yongsan Garrison in Seoul to Camp Humphreys in Pyeongtaek.
But 38.3 percent said they disliked or strongly disliked the increased presence, which is a joint project by the South Korean and U.S. governments.
Another 19.8 percent said they had no strong feelings one way or another, according to the survey done by the Gyeonggi Research Institute, a provincial government research center that covers the area from north of Seoul down past Pyeongtaek.
When asked about the move of the 2nd Infantry Division — a unit now stationed closer to the North Korean border that includes thousands of young, single soldiers — opinions shifted. Nearly one in four Pyeongtaek residents said they strongly disliked the move.
Kim Dong-sung, the researcher who headed the study, said this week that some of the most surprising findings involved what he called misconceptions by local residents of U.S. soldiers. Kim said many local residents imagine soldiers as rude and heavy drinkers, an image he said is more akin to experiences from the 1960s and 1970s.
“It is very important to break that kind of old image,” he said during a telephone interview last week. Kim, who is on sabbatical this year at the University of Maryland at College Park, was in South Korea to present the survey’s findings to a group of government officials and residents in late November.
The overall report also included partial results from a questionnaire by 211 U.S. soldiers on Yongsan Garrison and K-16 Air Base, Kim said. That portion of the research was headed by U.S. Forces Korea’s community relations office, Kim said.
Kim said the survey’s purpose was to hear from Americans and South Koreans about their perceptions of each other. Kim said he hopes by exposing these perceptions, both governments might work to foster better relationships between the groups.
The questions asked of U.S. soldiers ranged from their exposure to the Pyeongtaek area residents to the benefits of the relocation plan. Nearly four out of five soldiers thought the move would benefit Pyeongtaek’s economy, according to the partial results released.
Four out of 10 Pyeongtaek residents also thought their local economy would benefit from the move, according to the survey, which is available in Korean at: www.kydi.re.kr.
When asked to rank the advantages of the move, 42.7 percent of those surveyed named the local economy, followed by 19.8 percent who said national security, 17.4 percent said new jobs, 8.3 percent said more subsidies for the local government and 5.3 percent said cultural exchanges between the two nations.
When asked to rank the disadvantages, 30.2 percent said they feared a larger influence of drinking and prostitution in the area, which might in turn influence younger South Koreans. Tied for second on the list was rising crime and environmental impacts, such as noise pollution, at 23.1; third was restrictions on land use for private citizens at 14.8 percent and fifth was lower property values at 6.5 percent.
Kim made several recommendations to both governments in his report. He urged the South Korean government to give Pyeongtaek local officials a larger voice when making decisions and assuaging conflicts that arise between the local community and U.S. servicemembers.
To the Americans, Kim urged the commands to take a more active role in promoting the community relations programs already in existence. According to his survey, three out of four people know little or nothing about USFK’s Good Neighbor Program, a campaign that brings together U.S. servicemembers and South Koreans in a wide range of civic activities.
South Koreans want U.S. troops to bring families
SEOUL — A South Korean government research group will survey U.S. servicemembers with the hopes of encouraging more troops to bring their families along for long-term assignments.
The Family and Women Development Institute of Gyeonggi Province plans to interview U.S. servicemembers early next year to discover what aspects of South Korean life might attract more families.
Of the 29,500 servicemembers assigned to U.S. Forces Korea, only about 10 percent get financial support — including housing — to bring their families along. Because of that restriction, most assignments here last only a year.
As the U.S. forces centralize at Camp Humphreys in Pyeongtaek in coming years, leaders hope to change that shortened, solitary assignment into a three-year stint with orders to bring family members along.
In tandem with that move, local leaders say they want to provide housing and social needs that will better fit foreign families.
Last week, the Gyeonggi governor Kim Moon-soo requested help from USFK commander Gen. B. B. Bell to conduct the survey. The local officials also are planning a trip to Okinawa to study examples of U.S. military families living abroad.