Pacific Stars and Stripes
October 30, 1999
14,000 U.S. Civilians In Korea To Get Gas Masks In November
By Jim Lea, Stripes Osan Bureau
SEOUL — About 14,000 family members, nonmission-essential civilian employees and contractors in the U.S. military community in South Korea will begin receiving gas masks next month, U.S. Forces Korea announced Friday.
But command spokesman Col. David Apt emphasized that the move is not in response to any increased threat on the peninsula. Distributing the masks is "part of our continually evolving Force and Family Protection Program," which was started after the Khobar Towers terrorist bombing in Saudi Arabia in June 1996, he said.
He said distributing the masks to nonessential personnel is unprecedented.
Adults and children from the age of 10 will be issued M17A2 masks, which had been used by the U.S. military for protection from all chemical and biological agents. All other nonessential personnel will be issued one of three types of protective hoods, to be used by infants, small children and hard-to-fit adults.
The M17A2 mask formerly was issued to active-duty U.S. troops, who are now issued the M24. But Apt said the M17A2 "is a reliable system that is used worldwide by some active-duty forces."
The mask will be distributed to non-combatants with all branches of the U.S. military in South Korea, to U.S. employees of the American Embassy and to Department of Defense Dependents Schools teachers, administrators and their families.
The masks and hoods will provide protection in the event of a chemical attack and will give authorities time to move people into safe areas, Apt said.
He said distribution of the masks and hoods will begin in mid-November. Sponsors will receive the devices from Central Issue Facilities at bases throughout the country.
In addition, the masks will become part of Noncombatant Evacuation Operation kits all family members and nonessential U.S. government personnel in the country are required to maintain in case an evacuation is ordered.
Active-duty military people and civilian employees in South Korea who have been designated mission essential — meaning they will remain in the country if an evacuation is ordered — already are issued TA-50 chemical protective gear, which includes masks and protective clothing.
Noncombatants will not be issued the protective clothing. The masks and hoods they receive are not for long-term use. The mask are to be used to allow time to move the wearers to safe areas, Apt said.
Apt added that any nonessential personnel who come to the country on temporary duty will receive the masks through the unit to which they are temporarily assigned.
When distribution begins, training classes on how to use the devices will be held. The training program will include video-taped instructions, brochures and practice in putting on the devices.
Military personnel who receive chemical warfare training are required to enter areas where gas — generally tear gas — is present. However, Apt said, noncombatants will not be required to do so during training classes.
The Force and Family Protection Program at bases in South Korea also has included installing barricades at gates and on streets around headquarters buildings and communication facilities, tightening access to the bases, hands-on inspection of ID cards by gate guards, periodic inspection of vehicles entering bases and installation of television cameras to monitor particularly sensitive facilities. All of the measures have been taken since the Saudi Arabia bombings.