Schwartz Discusses Improving Quality of Life in Korea
By Rudi Williams
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, July 5, 2001 Service members and their families stationed in Korea live and work in "grim" conditions, including Quonset huts that were built after the armistice agreement in 1953, Army Gen. Thomas Schwartz said during a recent hearing on quality of life for U.S. forces stationed in Korea.
Not only are living and working conditions poor, service members assigned to Korea lose more money than service members in any other assignment in the world, said Schwartz, commander of U.S. forces in Korea.
Schwartz testified before the House Appropriations Committee's subcommittee on Military Construction June 27.
The general said 37,000 service members serving on the Korean Peninsula must either leave their families behind in the states or transplant them thousands of miles away from home to live in cramped, dilapidated living quarters, many of them void of modern conveniences.
Giving an example of the poor living conditions, Schwartz told the committee that more then 1,400 unaccompanied officers and senior NCOs live in inadequate quarters in Korea. For example, he said four NCOs live in a Quonset hut that's outfitted with a "gang latrine."
What he calls "a great young sergeant ... the backbone of the Army" lives in a 10-by-10-foot corner of a four-man Quonset hut.
"We can do better; we must do better," the general said.
Service members in the Balkans get tax relief and retain their separate rations, he noted. "They retain $237 a month that they don't get to keep when they go to Korea," Schwartz said.
For example, an E-5 in Korea gets about $19,000 per year, whereas that same rank in the Balkans, with tax relief and separate rations, computes out to more than $24,000-plus, he said. "That's a huge difference. We need legislative and DoD regulation changes to fix these pay disparities. We can only accomplish this with your help," Schwartz told the committee. "We need to improve the living and working conditions."
Thousands of married service members on unaccompanied tours in Korea suffer a large pay loss by absorbing between $3,000 and $6,000 in "hidden costs" supporting two households, Schwartz said. This particularly affects for low ranking service members, he said.
"We've got to change something here in terms of what we pay these people," Schwartz said.
He said the United States needs to improve and fix the infrastructure, including renovations and building-to- lease. Under a Land Partnership Plan the Republic of Korea would pay two out of every three dollars to rehabilitate or build infrastructure in the future, the general noted.
Schwartz pointed out that only 10 percent of about 21,000 married service members serving in Korea receive government housing. He compared that to Japan and Europe where more than 70 percent of married service members live in government quarters.
But with Congress' support in providing money for renovating current buildings, building new housing and building-to-lease, Schwartz envisions providing housing for about 25 percent of the American families in Korea by 2010 and 50 percent by 2020.
Under a partnership agreement between the United States and Republic of Korea, the first planned community effort will be about 1,500 family houses at Camp Humphreys at an upfront cost of about $675 million, Schwartz noted.
American officials plan 500 units at Camp Carroll, 250 units at Osan Air Base, 500 units at Yongsan and 500 units for Kunsan Air Base. Schwartz estimates the cost at about $700 million. The total community plan includes housing, commissary, post exchange, schools and other quality of life facilities.
"Next we have to fix our barracks and dorms," Schwartz noted. "If we're going to fix them, then we need to sustain two programs-the Barracks Upgrade Program, and the Army Barracks Buyout Program." He said if Congress continues to fund us at the current rate until 2008, the two programs would be finished on time and provide "the quality barracks and dorms that we need for our service members."
Susan Sinclair, wife of Army Col. Edward Sinclair, commander of the 6th Cavalry Brigade, told the committee about her family's experiences in Korea. She said out of more than 3,000 soldiers in the unit, there are only 35 command-sponsored families. However, about 70 other families chose to move to Korea without command sponsorship.
A Quonset hut was the Sinclair's first quarters when they arrived in Korea in 1998. "The first thing I noticed upon arrival was a large sign on the door warning of the danger of asbestos," said Sinclair, adding that the washing machine and dryer were located in their bedroom. "Electrical problems were constant. In the summer time, the Quonset hut absorbed heat. You could not run the window air conditioner and use the iron or microwave at the same time."
Sinclair said most of the off-post houses and apartments were not much better. "They didn't have air conditioning, no closets, limited parking and no place for children to play," she said. "The water was unsafe to drink, therefore bottled water was required."
Living quarters for service members were equally substandard with electrical, plumbing and heating problems, she noted. "Mildew on clothes in their closets and sewage backing up in the shower drains were common problems," Sinclair said.
Quality of life for non-command-sponsored families was also bad, plus they had to pay their own way to Korea to avoid the hardship separation, she noted. "They were not eligible to live on-post and their children were not guaranteed a place in the Department of Defense schools; they could only attend on a space- available bases," Sinclair said.
Army Sgt. Dwayne Dozier said he lives in a 50-year-old building that has 10 small, one-man rooms. "The Korean-vintage latrine and shower facilities are located outside the building, about 25 feet away," he said. "You can imagine the courage it takes to go to the bathroom in the middle of the night in January. Therefore, getting a good night's rest is not always easy."
Dozier and other NCOs told similar stories. "Everything is worn out," he said. "The original plumbing, heating and electrical system needs to be completely replaced. In fact, water has to be run a few minutes before using it due to the rust-colored appearance."