Suwon ends gate checks, room inspections after two weeks
PYEONGTAEK, South Korea — Weekend room inspections imposed to reacquaint troops and their sergeants with proper standards of barracks neatness, order, safety and discipline have ended at a U.S. Army missile unit at Suwon Air Base after unit leaders concluded the inspections had accomplished their intended purpose, officials said Monday.
The inspections — cursory room checks, not white-glove inspections — were one of two “retraining” measures begun earlier this month at the 1st Battalion, 43rd Air Defense Artillery, part of the 35th Air Defense Artillery Brigade, said brigade commander Col. John Rossi.
The brigade is a Patriot missile unit with batteries spread around the Korean peninsula.
Leaders also ended the second measure, which required the battalion’s first sergeants and platoon sergeants to be at the Suwon Air Base gate on Friday and Saturday nights to check for soldiers returning late for the 1 a.m. curfew or showing signs of underage drinking, Rossi said.
Such gate checks were not new within the brigade, but having virtually all first sergeants and platoon sergeants turn out for the checks was.
Hereafter, said Rossi, gate checks will continue routinely but will no longer require the battalion’s full complement of first sergeants and platoon sergeants. And leaders will make weekend barracks walk-throughs that spot-check room and common-use areas at random.
Both measures were imposed by the top 1st Battalion leaders to show soldiers and sergeants “this is what right looks like,” Rossi said. “All of this is trying to get at the good order and discipline of the house.”
The measures began around Sept. 9, after Rossi and the brigade’s Command Sgt. Major Sidney Weatherspoon showed up unannounced at the base between 12:30 a.m. and 1 a.m. for a firsthand look at security, curfew compliance and barracks conditions, finding various “deficiencies,” Rossi said.
It was one of a series of such checks they have made at the brigade’s various locations since Rossi assumed command July 15.
Proper standards require that soldiers, among other things, keep individual rooms, laundry rooms and other parts of the barracks neat on weekends as well as on regular duty days; not smoke in their rooms; keep their rooms locked; and observe all other rules against misconduct, including barracks theft or violence against fellow soldiers, Rossi said.
But the measures ended this weekend after 1st Battalion commander Lt. Col. Terence Dorn concluded the soldiers and their sergeants had brought barracks conditions to the proper standard, and that battalion sergeants were now taking a proper part in checking troops as they return to base at curfew, Rossi said.
Dorn “personally checked areas twice and the retraining is done,” Rossi said. “They looked good and the standards will be upheld in the future.
“And NCO and officer presence will still be at the gates routinely,” Rossi said, “and the leadership presence, as needed, will be” continued in the barracks in the form of spot checks of common-use areas and soldiers’ rooms.
“There needs to be a visible presence because a visible presence is often a deterrence to making bad choices,” Rossi said.
Other brigade elements also were directed to make improvements, Rossi said.
But at Suwon, the measures triggered a complaint to the Inspector General, according to a member of the unit who spoke on the condition of anonymity. Soldiers were worried the mandatory weekend inspections would continue indefinitely and thus rob them of weekend leisure time.
“We don’t know when it’s going to end,” the unit member said last week, when the measures were still in effect.
Eighth Army chief spokesman Lt. Col. Thomas Budzyna said he had no immediate details on any complaint made to the IG about the matter, but he noted that the U.S. military typically does not comment on IG complaints.
Since taking command of the brigade, Rossi has set a high priority on curbing soldier-on-soldier incidents of misconduct including sexual assault and other violence, barracks theft and alcohol abuse, something that has figured in a high percentage of disciplinary problems, he said.
“Every soldier will not always be comfortable with all policies, but we will absolutely expect them to comply with them because every policy we put into effect is after the best interest and readiness of the unit …” Rossi said. “The ‘We fight tonight’ mentality is absolutely appropriate to this unit. And the ability to do that all stems from good order and discipline. And that’s what we’re after.”