Top USFK enlisted to ask about end to Hongdae ban
July 20, 2007
YONGSAN GARRISON, South Korea — U.S. Forces Korea’s top enlisted soldier said Wednesday that he will ask the command about allowing members of the U.S. military community to visit Seoul’s Hongdae neighborhood again.
Command Sgt. Maj. Barry Wheeler made the comments on an American Forces Network broadcast Wednesday morning after an anonymous soldier called the station expressing frustration that the popular party area remains off-limits at night to U.S. troops.
USFK commander Gen. B.B. Bell banned his personnel from entering the neighborhood between 9 p.m. and 5 a.m. for “force protection” concerns in February after a U.S. soldier brutally raped a 67-year-old woman in the neighborhood on Jan. 14.
Pvt. Geronimo Ramirez later was sentenced to four years in prison by a South Korean court.
“I’m going to ask them to reconsider (the ban), because maybe enough time has gone by,” Wheeler said.
Wheeler cautioned that command may keep Hongdae off-limits anyway.
The large neighborhood, which includes Hongik University and a variety of boutiques, restaurants and nightclubs, had previously been off-limits from Dec. 2, 2002, until May 1, 2006, because of force-protection concerns.
It was reopened to troops after Korean National Police, U.S. military police and force-protection officials conducted a combined threat assessment.
However, the charges against Ramirez led to South Korean protests and negative media reports on troop behavior in Hongdae. The current ban includes a much larger part of the neighborhood than previously was banned.
Despite the earlier ban, troops said Hongdae remained a popular all-night hangout because uniformed military personnel did not patrol the area as they do in the Itaewon entertainment district outside Yongsan Garrison.
When queried Wednesday, 8th Army officials provided a statement from the USFK provost marshal.
“USFK does not discuss operational force protection matters so that we can maintain the safety of our personnel,” the statement read.
South Korean police said Wednesday there are no uniformed U.S. military patrols in the neighborhood.
U.S. civilians also are subject to the ban, USFK officials say. Although they cannot be punished under military law, base officials say they can take administrative action up to banning civilians from military installations.