DONGDUCHEON, South Korea - "R-e-s-p-e-c-t, find out what it means to me."

The underlying message that Dongducheon and U.S. Army leaders here are asking Korean and American residents in this community that has become home to an increasing number of military families is to heed those lyrics of Aretha Franklin, the Grammy-award winning "Queen of Soul."

About 250 residents from the World Meridian Apartment complex here turned out July 26 for a special "good neighbor meeting" called by Dongducheon Mayor Oh Sea-Chang to talk about being respectful neighbors, understanding cultural differences and developing friendships.

The meeting was also attended by Col. Hank Dodge, U.S. Army Garrison Red Cloud commander, and Lt. Col. Richard Fromm, USAG Casey commander.

Since U.S. Forces Korea commander Gen. Walter L. Sharp announced Dec. 10, 2008 that 2,100 Soldiers in Warrior Country could get two-year command sponsored positions - a step in what the Army calls "tour normalization" - the number of families moving to Warrior Country has increased.

From December 2009 to the June 2010, the Red Cloud Garrison Housing Office reported the number of families living in Dongducheon increasing from 687 to 835.

American Soldiers, civilian employees and their families currently occupy an estimated 150 of the 350 units in the complex that is about a five-minute walk to Dongducheon City Hall and a 10-minute drive to Casey Garrison.

In his opening remarks, the mayor said the meeting is just the first to resolve issues and create friendships, and that they will continue as long as Soldiers are living in Dongducheon.

He also said the mingling of residents will provide the children of both nations an opportunity to learn each other's language and culture.

"You are strengthening diplomatic relations through life in the World Meridian Apartment," Oh said to the attendees who packed the plaza between four apartment towers.

Dodge thanked the mayor for making him an honorary citizen of Dongducheon last week and asked the Koreans living in the complex to embrace their new American neighbors - many of whom are young and may not have previously lived outside the United States.

"We would hope that as Americans continue to live side by side with their Korean friends, that the Koreans would reach out to our American Soldiers and teach them their culture," Dodge said.
Following the opening remarks, Oh, Dodge and the other 12 dignitaries seated at the head table cut a cake symbolizing their determination to resolve issues and create friendships.

The mayor and Kim Jae-ok, a representative of the World Meridian Apartment complex, then made toasts to the strong bond that they hope will develop between the residents of both nations.

During a meal of japchae, kimchi, fruit and more served to the attendees, a combined Korean and American four-member ensemble belted out John Denver's "Take Me Home Country Roads" and a Korean classic, "Gaedong Beolae."

Throughout the meeting four members of the Korean National Police in Dongducheon, who were set up in a canopy adjacent to the head table, fielded concerns from Americans and Koreans living in the complex.

Improper disposal of garbage, excessive noise, smoking in common areas, illegal parking and improper pet care - all issues typically associated with apartment living, even in the United States - were the most prominent concerns.

"There was not enough time to understand our cultural differences and to bond," Kim said in his closing remarks through an interpreter, "but what is important is that we had this time to understand each other and to be considerate of our neighbors."