The Korean housing boom!
July 29, 2008
The Quonset hut, once the symbol of a hardship tour and living quarters for Soldiers of all ranks during the Korean War and Vietnam era, is slowly dying in Korea as Army officials revolutionize life on the peninsula, building some of the most modern, well-maintained facilities in the Army.
While the huts still dot the landscape, especially north of Seoul on installations like Camp Red Cloud and Camp Casey, they are mostly quaint reminders of another time, torn down whenever possible or closed up, or used as office or storage space. A few sergeants major may live in them by choice, said Don Needham, Camp Red Cloud\'s director of public works, but they are the exception.
To prepare for thousands of additional Soldiers and families from installations further north - the numbers are expected to rise from the 10,000 currently at the post to 45,000 by 2012-officials at U.S. Army Garrison Humphreys have begun an $8.2 billion-dollar construction project, building high-rises full of single-Soldier barracks, bachelor officers' quarters and family apartments, said Humphreys Garrison Command Sgt. Maj. Jason Kim.
At the same time, housing remains a priority for bases set for closure, such as camps Red Cloud and Casey, and USAG Yongsan, the current U.S. Forces, Korea, and 8th U.S. Army hub in Seoul, according to Army officials.
"It's the right thing to do," said 8th Army Commander Lt. Gen. Joseph F. Fil. "This alliance is strong and enduring. It will last through the 21st century and beyond. It is time to make this permanent instead of doing it one year at a time."
Although non-enduring installations don't receive money for new construction, officials are renovating housing to the same standard seen at Humphreys and in the States, said Needham. Gang, or shared bathrooms, are also a thing of the past.
Each enlisted Soldier arriving in Korea can expect what officials call the "two-plus-two" standard: one roommate and a private bathroom attached to their room. The furniture can also be arranged to divide the room into two separate areas, giving each Soldier as much privacy as possible, an important factor for many. The ultimate goal, officials said, is a private room for every Soldier.
"This is way better than the barracks I had in basic and AIT. I like the privacy, and sharing the bathroom with only one other person instead of six," said Humphreys resident Pfc. James Lintz of the 602nd Aviation Support Battalion.
The new Humphreys barracks are arranged campus-style with a unit's living, eating, workout and office facilities located together. Soldiers don't have far to go for anything, an important consideration when Soldiers aren't authorized personal vehicles.
Family housing, however, remains at a premium and is among the reasons officials say command-sponsored slots are limited. But the upcoming move to Humphreys and former USFK commander Gen. B.B. Bell's decision to double the number of command-sponsored slots has emphasized the renewed importance leaders are putting on quality of life.
Joan Bradford, the housing director at Humphreys, said the Army plans to build 36 12-to-15-story apartment buildings that will house almost 3,000 families. The sizes will vary, but the apartments will be larger than the standard in the States or Europe. The model has four bedrooms, two bathrooms and almost 2,000 square feet, with space for a living area, dining area and a den. Three of the towers have already been completed, are surrounded by playgrounds and are within walking distance of the post elementary school.
"This is excellent housing," Bradford said. "I've seen major improvements over the years. You used to have to be at least an E-4 on your second tour to get family housing. The units are receiving rave reviews from families, who like the convenience and space.
"We've been in 12 years and that's the best house we've lived in," said veteran Army wife Kelly Resnick, who lives with her children at Humphreys while her husband serves at a smaller camp that can't support families. "It's new, and its close to everything. It's well-kept. It's clean. It's totally supplied with furniture."
Their apartment, she said, is even more impressive compared with their housing at Humphreys 11 years ago, when the Resnicks only had a single room and bathroom. To cook, she remembered, she had to use the communal kitchen located downstairs from their room.
Installation housing offices also help families who can't get on-post housing find off-post houses and apartments that meet American standards, but Staff Sgt. Jennifer Tao-Metcalf and Sgt. Brandon Metcalf said on-post housing is much better. They met, married and had a son in Korea, and moved into the Humphreys housing as soon it was available.
"The bills. We had expensive gas bills," Tao-Metcalf remembered. "And then they gave us a two-story townhouse that used to be really hot and humid in the summer.
"Here it is more convenient, you're on post. The PX is right here. The child-development center is right there, and your work is right there."
Her husband agreed, and added that the neighborhood is great for a young family.
"There's a nice playground area for our son. I've never seen a playground that clean," said Metcalf.
While on-post housing is especially limited on Yongsan, due to the installation's location in the center of Seoul, officials there are intent on improving family housing as well, even for large families. The Yongsan housing office has converted four duplexes into four six-bedroom, 4,000-square-foot, single-family homes, said housing chief Carol Jones. They also turned a quad into two duplexes.
"The space is really more than we actually need," said Command. Sgt. Maj. Timothy Fitzgerald, who has seven children and had been living in a four-bedroom duplex. "We've actually sealed off one of the bathrooms because four bathrooms are too much. For a large family, it's perfect.
"I'd always heard bad things about Korea, and I think people say that so you get back to the States and they can come back over and continue to experience the assignment of choice," he said. "We really, really like it a lot. I've been on a lot of installations and Yongsan is one of our best assignments yet."
And as 2012 and the move south approach and construction at Humphreys nears completion with new schools, a 40,000 square-foot education center and a new food, beverage and entertainment complex, officials expect housing and quality of life to get even better. "This is going to be very good," said Bradford.
"I would love to come back in a few years," Resnick said, adding that she expected family programs to become more organized, and exposing her children to another culture is priceless.