Pacific Stars and Stripes
November 2, 1999
Reaction Mixed To Plan For Distributing Gas Masks
By Jeremy Kirk, Stripes Seoul Bureau Chief
YONGSAN GARRISON, South Korea ó Civilians say the U.S. militaryís decision to issue gas masks this month to all nonessential personnel doesnít come as a shock given the peninsulaís politics, but the move may cause increased concern about chemical warfare.
"You kind of expect that when you get the orders (to come) here," said Kay Abbott, a mother of two, who came to Korea with her husband in July. "If they brought us here, they should give us something (to protect us)."
Abbott said her 10-year-old son, Morgan, played with a neighborís gas mask last year when the family lived in Quantico, Va., and was excited when told he will get one soon.
"He thought it was pretty neat that he was going to get one," Abbott said.
While officials say the decision to issue the masks is not in response to an increased chemical warfare threat, some civilians say the program could prompt concern. Steven McKinney, a civilian who has lived at Yongsan for two years and has been in South Korea for about 12 years, said he wonders "how the Korean people will view this."
"I think itís going to cause undue panic," McKinney said. "Iíve been here for 12 years ó piece of cake."
"I donít think it (mask distribution) is a bad thing," said Tammy Sova, who has lived in South Korea with her husband and 16-year-old daughter for three years. "I hope it doesnít cause a lot of panic."
Gilbert White, protocol officer for the 19th Theater Army Area Command at Camp Henry in Taegu, said he feels distribution of the gas masks and hoods is "long overdue."
"I really donít understand why they didnít do it before now. Itís like the anthrax shots," White said. "Why are they being given to only (mission) essential personnel? Why not everybody?"
David Fears, a civilian data-base monitor for the 8th Army, said he was issued a mask gas since he is considered mission-essential, but said he doesnít feel that much safer.
"I donít feel any great need to have it," Fears said. "I think the North Koreans have more sense than to invade."
Adults and children older than 10 will be issued the M17A2, a mask formerly issued to active-duty soldiers. While soldiers now get a different mask, the older model "is a reliable system that is used worldwide by some active-duty forces," said Col. David Apt of U.S. Forces Korea public affairs. Civilians will take training classes to learn how to use the masks.