SEOUL — Good news for the troops in South Korea: U.S. Forces Korea officials rescinded the 7:30 p.m. to 5 a.m. curfew that went into effect March 20.
Beginning Thursday, troops can stay out until midnight Monday through Friday and 1 a.m. Saturday and Sunday.
“The curfew was modified … to reduce exposure of USFK personnel during the initial period of uncertainty and potential terrorist activities as a result of coalition actions in the Gulf Region,” Air Force Lt. Col. Mike Caldwell, deputy director of public affairs for USFK, told Stars and Stripes.
“Time has passed, we’ve reassessed the need to continue the curfew and we have determined that we could resume the normal curfew at this time,” he said.
“It’s still important for people to be vigilant and to take care of each other while they’re off our installations.”
Army Sgt. William Barrett said life under the stricter curfew wasn’t so bad — during the week. He’d just go home and make dinner. And he watched movies, a lot of movies.
But, he said, weekends were the worst.
Barrett said he understands force protection is important and thought the curfew was prudent. Without it, however, he usually stays out past 7:30 p.m., socializing and eating dinner.
“It makes things a little easier as far as off-duty time,” said Barrett, 29. “You don’t have to worry about rushing home.”
Local restaurant owners in Itaewon, who’ve seen empty tables since the war began, were ecstatic to hear the news.
“It’s really good to know,” said Kim Kun-ha, manager of Italonia, a popular Italian restaurant across the street from Yongsan Garrison’s main post. “After the Iraq war began, the number of customers here has dropped a lot. Most of our customers are foreigners, so the curfew had a lot to do with our business.”
Chong Chin-young, a manager at Itaewon’s Outback Steakhouse, said he’s seen a 30 to 40 percent drop in profits since the curfew went into effect.
“It’s been really slow for a while, especially at night,” Chong said.
He said losing the 7:30 p.m. curfew is good because “we ... depend on foreign customers for business.”
The troops at Kunsan Air Base had about 48 hours to enjoy their new liberty status. Officials said they’d be restricted to base April 7-11 for an operational-readiness inspection.
“Basically, everybody’s staying on base,” said Capt. Alisen Iversen, spokeswoman, emphasizing that’s normal during the exercises.
U.S. Forces Korea curfews affect all servicemembers in South Korea, including those here on temporary duty. Troops who live off base are allowed to travel to and from their place of residence but aren’t allowed to make stops along the way during curfew hours.
Officials have told Stripes that troops who break the curfew will in be in violation of a general order and will be turned over to their commands for possible punishment.