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U.S. Noncombatants in South Korea to Receive Protective Masks

By Linda D. Kozaryn
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Oct. 29, 1999 – U.S. Forces Korea has taken another step to protect military families and other DoD-affiliated non- combatants from the threat of weapons of mass destruction.

Command officials announced Oct. 29 that DoD had approved its request to issue protective masks to command and non- command sponsored military family members in South Korea. Masks also will be issued to all DoD civilians not designated as emergency essential and their families and to all dependents of emergency-essential employees. Mission-essential DoD civilians and active duty service members already are issued protective masks and clothing.

"After considerable thought and planning, the command is ready to make a prudent addition to our force and family protection measures," said Army Lt. Gen. Daniel Petrosky, the command's chief of staff. "In the next few weeks, we will begin to issue protective masks to family members, and noncombatants associated with the Department of Defense."

Petrosky, who is also the commander U.S. Eighth Army, told American Forces Korea Network the command has been planning this addition to the Force and Family Protection Program for more than a year. "It is not in response to any increased threat in Korea," he said. "Our program is another step in our ongoing mission to protect our forces and to protect their families.

"In this uncertain world," Petrosky continued, "such prudent defensive measures just make sense. This new effort serves the same primary purpose all our force and family protection measures do -- to make all members of the USFK family as safe as possible."

Personnel assigned on temporary duty to U.S. Forces Korea will either bring their own masks or be issued one by their sponsoring unit or activity, according to DoD officials. Contractors and technical representatives are covered under a separate DoD force protection program.

Beginning in mid-November, U.S. Forces Korea will issue M17A2 masks and three types of commercially designed hoods for infants (birth through age 3), children (4-10) and hard-to-fit adults. The masks will become part of each family's noncombatant evacuation kit.

American service members -- including those in Korea -- formerly used the M17A2 mask, which has now been replaced by the M40. Command officials said the M17A2 mask is a reliable system. It is designed to provide protection against the widest range of potential chemical and biological agents. The command will conduct training to ensure sponsors know how to use the equipment.

The masks and hoods will protect noncombatants in the event of a chemical attack and will give authorities time to move them into safe areas, Army Col. David Apt, U.S. Forces Korea spokesman, told Pacific Stars and Stripes.

DoD officials are currently assessing whether or not masks should be issued to family members in other overseas locations to augment existing force protection plans.

Since the 1996 terrorist attack on U.S. forces at Khobar Towers in Saudi Arabia, the military has taken numerous steps to enhance force protection. Previous steps taken in South Korea to enhance noncombatants' safety include installing barricades, widening roads and improving installation access control, Apt noted. #END#

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