U.S. bases in S. Korea work to upgrade security
TAEGU, South Korea — Keeping installations safe and troops trained to defend them are key priorities this year for the Army in lower South Korea, the commander for the region said.
The Army is investing more than a half-million dollars to upgrade security at installations in Area IV, its lower South Korea military district. And it’s stepping up base-defense training for the region’s troops, Col. James M. Joyner, Area IV commander, told Stars and Stripes in a recent interview.
Joyner also commands Camp Henry’s 20th Support Group, which is responsible for daily management of Area IV installations — Camps Henry, Walker and George in Taegu; Camp Carroll in Waegwan and in Pusan, Camp Hialeah.
Installation security has a priority within the U.S. military throughout South Korea, especially since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
But it’s assumed new urgency in recent months amid “the swell of anti-Americanism that was occurring,” Joyner said.
A wave of anti-American demonstrations surged in South Korea after a U.S. military court in November acquitted two U.S. soldiers whose armored vehicle struck and killed two South Korean schoolgirls in a roadside mishap in June.
Some demonstrations were violent: Molotov cocktails and other objects were thrown onto U.S. military installations. Some protesters even got inside the gates. In other incidents, U.S. servicemembers were harassed off post and an officer in civilian clothes was attacked at knife-point but escaped with minor injuries.
On Dec. 14 at Camp Henry, two South Korean university students reportedly used a ladder to climb the perimeter wall, then scaled the on-post water tower, hung protest banners, tossed leaflets and shouted anti-U.S. slogans.
They’re facing trial in a South Korean court.
“We’ve had some concerns about the security of our installation,” Joyner said. “We have spent quite a bit of money, made some much-needed improvements.”
Much of it consisted of identifying and sealing points along installation perimeters that intruders might have found easy to breach.
Concertina wire and other security devices were used. “We put concertina on top of the gates themselves, swinging gates, to make it where no one could climb over easily,” said James Hamilton, the 20th SG’s public works director for Taegu.
“We put concertina on top of buildings that were close to the perimeter walls, so that people could not use those against us as they climb over and step onto a building,” Hamilton said.
Public works crews also are working to make it harder for would-be intruders to use telephone poles standing just inside perimeter walls. Workers have removed lower courses of the bolt-like steps repair crews use as ladders. The bolts start about six feet from the ground but crews are removing them to a height of 15 feet.
For phone poles nearest the walls, crews are ringing concertina wire even with the top of the wall, another device to hinder entry.
They’ve also installed extra perimeter lights and sealed off potential underground entry points.
In addition, new manhole covers can be opened only from above ground, from inside the post.
And at Camp George and Camp Hialeah, welding crews reconfigured grillwork to make openings too narrow to admit an intruder.
Such Area IV improvements will cost about $500,000 not including security cameras and other measures scheduled earlier last year, said Maj. Matthew Orenstein, Area IV public works director.
But Joyner has said he also wants troops kept up to speed on the basics of defending installations against both demonstrators’ actions and wartime attacks by enemy forces. He’s directed that the weekly Thursday “Sergeants’ Time” be used to instruct soldiers in those basics.
“I’ll probably guess that we’ll dedicate at least 50 percent to this particular type of training,” said 1st Sgt. Stephen Widener of the 20th SG’s Headquarters and Headquarters Company.
“The skills they would constantly have to go back over will be like … riot control training — that is an extremely perishable skill,” said Widener.
Instructors from area military police units also will be brought in to give riot-control training.
“A lot of times, we have an MP instructor who will … give us instruction in how to do the takedowns, how to put the demonstrators into flexi-cuffs, and what are the actions that they do while they put them in a holding area until the MPs come and take them off our hands,” Widener said.
Spc. Daniel Jones pulled his share of 24-hour guard shifts, and thinks the added training will be a benefit.
“We can learn how to protect ourselves and the local civilians without injuring anybody else in the process,” said Jones, an Army Substance Abuse Program counselor at Camp Henry.
“It’s just a reminder that you do need to stay vigilant and that things can happen even if you are in a comfortable area.”
New emphasis, said Widener, also will be placed on watching for signs of suspicious activity and shortcomings in the installation’s security.
“We’ve taken measures to make sure our base is secure but no matter how much we’ve done externally,” he said, “it’ll still come down to who’s paying attention.”