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Coast guard policemen in `Honorable Uniforms`

Posted May. 28, 2014 05:39,   


Jeon Sun-yeol, 43, a lieutenant who works at Haneulbada police substation of the Incheon chapter of the Korean Coast Guard, received the top award at the second “Honorable Uniforms” ceremony hosted by the Dong-A Ilbo and Channel A in January last year. The award gave credit for him who cracked down on 26 illegal Chinese fishing boats as the head of the speed boat group of the Sea Special Attack Team. He had to hazard his life as Chinese sailors resisted vehemently by wielding deadly weapons and setting fire on gas tanks.

Jeon said at the award ceremony, “My wife and two daughters are very proud of me becoming a coast guard police officer.” He donated the entire prize money of 30 million won (29,320 U.S. dollars) for the bereaved families of his colleagues, and needy students and neighbors.

When President Park Geun-hye announced that she would disband the Coast Guard after much consideration,” holding the entity responsible for the Sewol ferry disaster, Jeon struck on me. How is he doing at a time when the Coast Guard became the public enemy?

When I managed to talk to him over the phone on Saturday, Jeon was heartbroken at the fact that the Coast Guard could not save a single passenger onboard. He said, “I think there was much room for improvement in its initial response. Even coast guard policemen’s families say that it did not handle the accident right at first. But I think it would have been difficult to anyone.”

He seemed to have been daunted a lot. He said, “When I patrolled today, a driver in a car passing by rolled down a window and pointed a finger at me, saying, ‘Hey, you, the Coast Guard!’ When I go to the scene after a report, some people say, ‘You’re going to be disbanded and what the hell are you doing here?’ Coast Guard members have lost their pride. Now, their wives cannot say to others, ‘My husband is a coast guard policeman.’”

Then, he cautiously talked about his colleagues who were sent to the scene to rescue the missing. He said, “They risk their lives to get into the sea. They will do their best. When I called one colleague there a few days ago, he couldn’t say a word and was about to cry.” He was also frustrated about the dissolution of the organization. He said, “I thought a coast guard policeman is my calling. If the Coast Guard is eliminated, though I would keep working, I would not be able to feel the pride of wearing the uniform.”

The one who felt most guilty about failing to save 304 people who are either dead or missing would be the Coast Guard, which is under public criticism. As the organization is going to be disbanded, the members would be much frustrated. You cannot throw a stone to the Coast Guard as if you are not guilty. It was an accident resulting from deep-rooted problems in our society. Nothing that moves the Republic of Korea -- whether it is the presidential office, the government, the National Assembly, or the media – can have indulgence. The entities that are supposed to atone for innocent deaths should not make the Coast Guard a scapegoat and cop out.

It is necessary to see what the Coast Guard did wrong first, and then the government should be responsible for maritime safety. The National Assembly should discuss seriously whether President Park’s idea to eliminate the Coast Guard, while transferring rescue and guard services to the new National Safety Administration and investigation and intelligence functions to the National Police Agency is the best solution. As the idea came from the president and not screened by the public, both the ruling and opposition parties should work together and take experts’ opinions to come up with a solution that the public can accept.

While serving as a judge for the “Honorable Uniforms Awards” for the past three years, I realized that men in uniform (MIU) such as soldiers, policemen, and firefighters are special. People can never risk their lives to save others without having a sense of pride and responsibility that they serve for the country and the people.

Two more coast guard policemen received the award. Park Seong-yong, a lieutenant at the Korea Coast Guard in west region who received the second prize in the first Honorable Uniforms ceremony, recently underwent surgery for back injuries he gained while patrolling ships on a speed boat. Choi Yoo-ran, a sergeant at the Korea Coast Guard in Mokpo who received the second prize in the third ceremony, got busier after the ferry accident. They donated all of their prize money of 20 million won (19,550 dollars). We should remember that we have coast guard policemen like them.