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Alcohol ban in South Korea reflects 'fight tonight' readiness

Jul. 19, 2014 - 06:00AM   |  
Airmen new to Korea cannot buy or drink alcohol within 30 days of arrival — a requirement under a new orientation policy.
Airmen new to Korea cannot buy or drink alcohol within 30 days of arrival — a requirement under a new orientation policy. (1st Lt. Kay Nissen/Air Force)
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Airmen new to South Korea need to know what they’re getting into.

North Korea is not the conventional, Soviet-style threat it once was, said Lt. Gen. Jan-Marc Jouas, 7th Air Force commander since January 2012. The adversary fires missiles routinely. An attack can come with little to no warning.

“Korea is not just another assignment. We’re not going to a base where you will deploy to a forward location. We are the forward location,” Jouas said. “When we say ‘fight tonight,’ we mean it.”

That’s the logic behind a new Korean Readiness Orientation policy begun July 1 that requires all airmen new to the country to complete a series of activities within 30 days of their arrival — and includes a ban on purchasing and consuming alcohol during that time.

A unit commander can extend the 30-day period if he or she thinks an airman isn’t “ready to accomplish the mission or sustain the alliance,” according to an Osan Air Base news release.

Those who imbibe during the first 30 days can be punished under the Uniform Code of Military Justice, a memorandum for 51st Fighter Wing personnel at Osan states.

Jouas said he knows the alcohol provision has a lot of people talking. But, he said, “that is absolutely secondary” to the overall policy targeting mission readiness and personal resiliency.

Among the requirements: a 7th Air Force mission brief, a U.S. Forces Korea intelligence estimate and operation plan review, anti-terrorism and force protection briefings, unit-specific mission orientations and a goal development plan for enlisted airmen who are E-4 and below and first and second lieutenants.

The orientation also includes alcohol awareness and sexual assault prevention and response training, as well as initial feedback completed by an assigned supervisor.

Jouas hopes to have every airman visit the Korean Demilitarized Zone “so they can really get that visual and see the North Korean forces there and take a look across the border and understand the situation this nation is in.”

Except for the goal development plans, all aspects of the policy apply to every incoming airman, regardless of rank. It also gives commanders the authority to extend the provisions where they sit fit; at Osan Air Base, that includes a 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. curfew.

“We want to instill that focus in all airmen who come to Korea and instill that early on,” Jouas said. “We believe the first 30 days is when we’re going to instill that.”

And if an airman is going to get into trouble, it will generally happen during his or her first 30 days, he said.

The new orientation policy has been in the works for about a year.

“We didn’t just sit in a room by ourselves and come up with this. We talked with airmen, what they wanted, and to our delight, most airmen embrace this. They see it as necessary to gain the right footing, to have a successful career, to be part of something larger than back at any home station,” said Chief Master Sgt. Shelina Frey, command chief master sergeant for the 7th Air Force.

Many arrive for the one-year assignment with an outdated view of the country, Jouas said. When he first went to South Korea in 1983, “there were far fewer rules. Drinking was more prevalent.”

For years, there was an abundance of so-called juicy bars outside base gates, which have been linked to prostitution and human trafficking. Air Force officials have made them off-limits, and the number of bars has dropped substantially in recent years, Jouas said.

“We want to make it very clear [to airmen] when they arrive that whatever stories you may have heard about Korea, this is a modern nation and our Air Force is a guest here, and we’re to conduct ourselves appropriately,” the commander said.

“The bottom line is to build a solid foundation for airmen to have a successful tour and understand while they are here what is asked of them and to enjoy the atmosphere,” Frey said. “This is a great place to be, despite challenges outside the gate.”

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