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SEOUL — A new policy restricting some soldiers at K-16 Air Base from having guests of the opposite sex in their dorm rooms is being criticized by the troops as overly harsh, but their commander claims it’s necessary to protect them.

Lt. Col. Tom Climer — commander of the 2nd Aviation Battalion, 2nd Aviation Regiment — set the policy Feb. 7 following a recent alleged sexual assault on the small base on the outskirts of Seoul.

The policy applies to both military and civilian personnel. Failure to obey could result in a soldier facing punishment under the Uniform Code of Military Justice.

Soldiers who contacted Stars and Stripes on Monday said they feel they’re being unfairly punished for another’s misconduct.

“Obviously, this brings morale down unbelievably,” said a female Army private first class during a phone interview. “It’s mass punishment for just a few that have been repeatedly in trouble.”

Another soldier pointed out how unfair it is, that soldiers who live off base, “right across the street,” aren’t required to follow the policy.

“Half the battalion [is] upset,” he added.

And another soldier pleaded that Climer should just “punish the people” who commit crimes.

“They’re treating us like kids,” he said. “I don’t think it’s right.”

During a phone interview late Monday, Climer said he’s been in the dorms talking to the troops every night since releasing the policy.

“I understand it’s not popular,” he said of his decision. “They may perceive it as harsh that they can’t go in each other’s rooms.”

But, he added, even one sexual assault is “too many.”

“I don’t want to have to be the guy who tells a mother or father that their son or daughter was assaulted,” he said.

He stressed the most important thing was keeping his roughly 450-person unit of soldiers — both male and female — safe. The recent soldier-on-soldier alleged sexual assault in a dorm highlighted the need for change, including a strong push for education, he said.

In his policy letter, Climer wrote of a recent rise in the number of alleged incidents across the 2nd Infantry Division, his higher command.

He was unable Monday to provide specifics, saying only that he knew it was increasing from various reports and discussions.

The soldiers who talked to Stripes on Monday said they worried that the new policy will force troops to head off base and could result in more, not fewer, incidents since they’ll be away from leader supervision and out of the dorms.

“People don’t want to stay on post” under these new rules, one soldier said. “They’re going to go out and party.”

But Climer said he doesn’t believe that will happen.

“I gave that … due consideration,” he said. “I don’t buy into that.”

He said post pass policies and the need for leader permission to “stay off post” will help in the situation.

He also said it’s not necessarily a “permanent policy” and that he’ll continue to access the situation. He’s hoping the push for education — like Monday’s small-level group discussion on “consent and what consent consists of” — will help.

“We may decide that everyone is truly ready to go back to a policy of visitation,” he said.

He said one married couple approached him to ask for an exception to policy and he’s entertaining that suggestion.

Climer’s policy was released one day before a 2nd ID policy ordering all of the division troops to keep their blood alcohol concentration below .10 or face possible punishment.

In a Feb. 1 message to his troops, U.S. Forces Korea commander Gen. B.B. Bell wrote that U.S. servicemember misconduct is on the rise, particularly involving “under age drinking, alcohol abuse, curfew violation and sexual assault.”

Another female private first class who called Stripes late Monday night said she feels bad for the pregnant soldiers in her unit.

“It’s upsetting to see them,” sitting out in the cold talking to their boyfriends, she said. “Pregnancy already has a stress of its own. Why would you want to add to it?”

She claimed that junior troops have gone to the command with suggestions, such as having people keep their doors open when they have visitors of the opposite sex. That way, duty personnel could patrol the hallways and keep an eye on the situation.

Instead of letting the troops help, she said, the leaders “started off at the highest level of discipline.”

“They live off post with their wives and families,” she said. “It doesn’t affect them.”

She said two senior leaders cracked down on the barracks on Friday night and four young troops were taken out in handcuffs.

“They were playing PlayStation,” she said of the troops who were arrested. She stressed that they were in the dorms, staying out of trouble.

“We’re not the ones causing problems … beating up taxi drivers and bar owners,” she said.

When she went to her noncommissioned officers to complain, she said she was told “they don’t want to lose their spot in command.”

She said when she joined, her goal was to become a sergeant major — the senior enlisted advisor to the commander.

“Now I don’t want to be a sergeant major,” she said. “It’s been nothing but BS since I’ve been here.”

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