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Military spouses and South Korea

By George S. Kulas
web posted November 16, 2009

Things are looking up for military members and their families assigned to South Korea. U.S. Forces Korea has announced a goal of having half of its 28,500 members serving three year command sponsored tours accompanied by their families.  Future plans call for an estimated $13 billion in construction costs at Camp Humphreys that, according to the commander of U.S. Forces Korea, Army General Walter "Skip" Sharp, will result in Humphreys becoming the best military installation in the world

For decades most lower ranking service members assigned to South Korea have been there on one year unaccompanied hardship tours.   Many spouses of these military members have, on their own and at their own expense, ventured to South Korea to be with their husbands or wives.  The military classifies these spouses as non-command sponsored.   My wife, Kathy, was one of those spouses.  In 1976 and again in 1980 she accompanied me to South Korea on one year tours.  During both tours, because she was non-command sponsored, she was not authorized by the military to utilize many of the on-post facilities such as post exchanges and commissaries.   

During our first tour to South Korea we lived in a three room shack alongside South Koreans in the village of Anjung-Ri near Camp Humphreys 30 miles south of Seoul.  The village was crowded with innumerable bars and pawnshops.  Prostitution was rampant and at some camps the girls were bussed to the on-post clubs at night. We were not allowed to have a motor vehicle and I vividly recall a very cold December day in 1976 when we trekked several miles to the post exchange at Camp Humphreys to Christmas shop.   Because she could not enter the facility I had to bring potential gifts to the window of the post exchange to show my wife who stood shivering outside in the freezing weather giving either a thumbs up or thumbs down for the gift.  Inside the warm and cozy Christmas decorated post exchange my wife could see South Korean women who had met and married higher ranking military personnel and obtained command sponsorship Christmas shopping to their hearts content while my wife, an American citizen, was left out in the cold. 

My wife, like many other non-command sponsored spouses of American service members on hardship tours, didn't have to leave her loved ones and the comforts of stateside living.  But again and again she would travel with me not just to Korea but to numerous other assignments including  Okinawa and Panama  all the while  providing me with the love and support that made my tours much easier and a lot less lonely.  On one occasion,  in-between assignments while staying at her parent's home in Plymouth Wis, she asked me, with tears in her eyes, why we had to continue living like this.  But we did continue and now we both are thankful for having had the opportunity and the privilege to serve which has made us much more appreciative of the American way of life we enjoy today. 

Today tens of thousands of military spouses serving either alongside their loved ones at locations around the world or back home supporting them are American unsung heroes.  The sacrifices these spouses and other loved ones of our military personnel make are worthy of the utmost gratitude from us all.  Today non-command sponsored spouses of service members serving in South Korea are authorized the use of all on-post facilities.    They no longer are treated like second class citizens, they no longer are made to feel unwelcome and they no longer are literally-- left out in the cold. ESR

George S. Kulas served as a Sergeant Major in the U.S. Army before he retired.


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