U.S. Army opens doors with open house
May 20, 2003
TAEGU, South Korea — Only months ago, huge crowds filled the streets of South Korea’s major cities, calling for the U.S. military to go home.
But if the smiling South Koreans who showed up Saturday for an open house at the Walker Army Heliport were any clue, the U.S. military in South Korea may have more friends than those street protests might have indicated.
The open house held the previous two years drew only scant interest from South Koreans.
But throughout Saturday, the heliport saw a steady stream of people walking about the grounds viewing helicopters, tanks and other military vehicles and displays. And the day kicked off with performances by a South Korean Army band and drill team and local university martial arts team.
A “kiddie train” with a mock locomotive made a long circuit around one end of the heliport, hauling droves of South Korean youngsters who appeared delighted.
In the first hours of the daylong event, the South Korean turnout seemed confined mainly to the schools and orphanages with which some of the U.S. Army units have regular relationships.
But in the afternoon, individual South Koreans began to arrive — here two or three mothers with children strapped to their backs or a mother and father with a child in a stroller, there a mother with small children pulling up in a taxi.
Saturday’s open house also was the first since the military launched its “Good Neighbor Program,” a broad public relations offensive to build goodwill among the Korean public. It calls for measures including open houses, “adopting” local schools and forging professional and social partnerships with South Korean military units.
In formal welcoming remarks to an audience including government and civic leaders, Army Col. James M. Joyner, 20th Area Support Group commander, said, “Many of you may have heard of Gen. LaPorte’s Good Neighbor Program.”
Referring to Army Gen. Leon J. LaPorte, commander of U.S. forces in South Korea, Joyner said, “It is his intent, and mine as well, that we make an even greater effort to reach out to you and be good neighbors.”
Kim Kyung-ja, a Kyongsan Boys Middle School teacher, said, “The purpose is very good, to make Korean citizens to know Americans better.”
Kim, who escorted 73 seventh- and eighth-graders Saturday, said younger South Koreans who did not experience the Korean War, “do not understand how important national security is.”
Baek Hyun-ja was one of several mothers escorting her son and 92 other grade-schoolers to the open house. She said it was an opportunity, especially for children, “to have a friendly feeling” toward Americans.
“For example,” she said, “my son thinks, American army = war. Recently they had a war with Iraq. So he thinks American army always goes to war. But this time he thinks, America — good chance to see this area. So he feels good things.”
It all was good to Chief Warrant Officer Josh Hilewitz of Troop A, 1st Squadron, 6th Cavalry Brigade out of Wonju. He and others from the troop flew two AH-64A Apache attack helicopters to Taegu for the open house. Youngsters, some helped by their mothers, climbed aboard eagerly.
“This is a step in the right direction,” said Hilewitz. “We’re guests here, so a good neighbor program is always needed. ... And the general attitude here has been very positive. Had a great turnout and that was good.”