Korea Command Focuses on Quality of Life
By Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Molly A. Burgess
Special to American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Dec. 17, 2009 Improving the quality of life for servicemembers and their families stationed in the South Korea is a top priority, the commander of U.S. Forces Korea said this week.
In a “DODLive” bloggers roundtable Dec. 15, Army Gen. Walter “Skip” Sharp said one of his main priorities is to maintain and improve facilities, services, schools and medical capabilities to benefit all current and future servicemembers, Defense Department civilians and families who will call Korea home temporarily.
“We are working very hard to make sure that the facilities, the services, the schools, the medical capability that we have in the Republic of Korea is top-notch, which it is today,” Sharp said. “We are working towards being able to have all of our servicemembers come to Korea for two- and three-year tours and bring their families instead of one year at a time unaccompanied.”
Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates has approved extended tour lengths last year, paving the way to allow servicemembers’ families to accompany them with command sponsorship. Extending tour lengths while increasing command sponsorship opportunities reduces stress levels not only for servicemembers, but also for their families, Sharp said.
U.S. Forces Korea will continue to increase the number of sponsored families and the length of tours in South Korea as facilities are available, the general said.
“We have gone from about 1,700 officially command-sponsored families in Korea during the summer of 2008 to 3,700 command-sponsored families in Korea,” he said. About 28,500 U.S. servicemembers are stationed in South Korea.
As U.S. Forces Korea continues lengthening the tours of servicemembers deployed to South Korea, Sharp said, he expects by this time next year there will be close to 4,900 command-sponsored families. That number is expected to grow three-fold over time to nearly 14,000 command-sponsored families as they make room for this growth by building additional apartments, medical facilities and schools, Sharp added.
During the roundtable, Sharp encouraged people to visit South Korea to see how much has changed in a country where living conditions once dictated that most servicemembers serve unaccompanied tours.
“It is a modern, wonderful country,” Sharp said. “For those old enough … to remember the ‘M*A*S*H’ TV series, it’s not at all like that. It is a great country that welcomes our troops and really takes care of our troops and our families.”
Sharp also highlighted the Defense Department’s school system in South Korea, which he said consistently get the highest SAT scores of any schools in the Defense Department system and well above the national average. Students in Defense Department schools in South Korea also get more service academy nominations and scholarships than those in the system’s other schools, he added.
Sharp noted that he was born while his father was serving in the Korean War.
“I’m very proud of the fact that I’m an Army ‘brat,’” he said. “I’m very, very proud of his service and humble to be now in command in the country that he served in when I was born.”
(Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Molly A. Burgess serves in the Defense Media Activity’s emerging media directorate.)