GI Flashbacks: The 1999 Murder of SFC Jeanne Balcombe

A Night of Drinking Turns Into Murder

In the early morning hours of Saturday, August 21, 1999 Sergeant First Class Jeanne Balcombe was on duty at Camp Red Cloud, South Korea.  She was a platoon sergeant in the 55th Military Police Company doing what every good Non-commissioned officer does, enforcing standards.  She was conducting checks that night when she saw one of the soldiers in her platoon who appeared to be drunk and was underage to be consuming alcohol.  The soldier had been drinking with the 20-year old, Private First Class Jacob M. Bowley who also a member of her platoon.  The soldiers had been on a four-day pass and SFC Balcombe removed their pass privileges and brought the underage soldier to the Camp Red Cloud medical clinic to have his blood drawn to test for alcohol.

Soldiers getting caught underage drinking in in Korea is very common and there was nothing unusual about this incident until PFC Bowley barged into the medical clinic shortly before 4 A.M. with a gun.  After PFC Bowley had his pass privileges removed by SFC Balcombe his anger boiled over and he was determined to get back at SFC Balcombe.

On the night Balcombe was killed, she caught Bowley and another underage soldier drinking. Balcombe took away a four-day leave pass from Bowley and made the other soldier submit to a blood-alcohol test.

Messer testified that Bowley was angry the pass was taken away that night.  [Stars & Stripes – Jan. 29, 2000]

To exact his revenge he needed a weapon.  Korean Augmentee to the US Army (KATUSA) Corporal Suh So-so worked as a military policeman in Bowley’s unit and was on duty that night which meant he had his 9mm pistol on him.  Corporal Suh who had no reason to suspect an attack from a member of his unit, was taken by surprise when Bowley approached him and then viciously attacked him.  PFC Bowley left Corporal Suh on the ground badly beaten and then took his sidearm.  Now that he was armed Bowley next headed to the Camp Red Cloud medical clinic to confront SFC Balcombe.

Camp Red Cloud Medical Clinic via Bruce Richards’ webpage.

SFC Balcombe who was unarmed at the time tried to intervene to stop the gunman and in the ensuing confrontation she was shot three times by Bowley to include once in the head killing her.  After the confrontation, Bowley repeatedly said, “She took my pass away!”  Investigators also believed that Bowley was attempting to shoot the soldier having his blood drawn because he told SFC Balcombe that Bowley was the one that provided him with the alcohol.  However, the confrontation SFC Balcombe had with Bowley provided enough time for others in the clinic to flee.

Other witnesses recounted grisly details during the first day of the hearing for Pfc. Jacob Bowley, who pleaded guilty last week to murdering Sgt. 1st Class Jean Balcombe. Balcombe, 33, worked for 1st Platoon, 55th Military Police Company, at Camp Red Cloud.

Capt. Edward McDaniel, officer in charge of the medical clinic, testified that Bowley silently walked into the facility on the morning of Aug. 21. Another soldier asked Bowley what he was doing, McDaniel said.

“Moments later, he reached behind his back and pulled out a weapon,” McDaniel said. “He pointed it in the direction of Sgt. Balcombe and (Sgt.) Huh.

“I was screaming, ‘Don’t shoot, don’t shoot.’ ”

McDaniel and Sgt. Huh Dong-pil, a Korean soldier assigned to the 168th Medical Battalion, heard three shots. Huh, who said he was within two arms’ lengths of Balcombe, escaped into a nearby room.

“The situation was very bad and dangerous,” Huh said. “I was in a panic.”

Blood seeped under a door in the room where he hid, Huh said. After two more gunshots, he said he heard a “gurgling” sound and Balcombe’s breathing.  [Stars & Stripes – Jan. 26, 2000]

Bowley after the murder fled in a military police Galloper Jeep from Camp Red Cloud.  At the exit gate for the camp he brandished his gun at the gate guard to let him through.  The Galloper was later found parked near the Uijongbu City Hall.  Bowley then made his way via train to the southeastern city of Busan.  Once there he attempted to withdraw cash from an ATM at the Yangjong-dong branch of the Seoul Bank branch in the city.  A Korean national at the bank saw the suspicious looking soldier and reported it to the police.  Bowley a short time later was apprehended by Korean police at 11:40am at the bank.  At the time of his apprehension he was cooperative as he was taken to a police car, but once in the police car he tried to pull out the gun he had concealed in his waistband.  A scuffle with the police ensured and they were able to disarm him.  Even during questioning Bowley was out of control and had to be restrained to his chair by the Korean police.

Stars & Stripes newspaper Aug. 22, 1999.

The Trial

PFC Bowley was charged with murder, aggravated assault, and five other charges after the killing of SFC Balcombe.

Stars & Stripes newspaper Sept. 2, 1999.

As the case went to trial PFC Bowley decided to plead guilty and his defense lawyer asked the judge to show leniency during sentencing blaming drinking caused by the stress of being in Korea for his actions:

During her closing statement, defense attorney Capt. Donna Hansen said
Bowley’s guilty plea showed he had taken responsibility for his actions.
In asking for a 10-year sentence, Hansen said Bowley had the potential
for rehabilitation.

“What Jacob Morgan Bowley did is wrong, but he is not evil,” Hansen
said. “Punishment is a must, but the degree of punishment must be
tempered.”

Heavy drinking and difficult duty in Korea put stress on Bowley, Hansen
said. The murder represented “an aberration to the real Jacob Bowley,”
she said.  [Stars & Stripes – Jan. 31, 2000]

Bowley also took the stand pleading for leniency as well blaming stress and drinking for what he did:

Pfc. Jacob Bowley testified at his sentencing hearing Friday that he wished he could “erase this nightmare” begun when he fatally shot a military policewoman in a fit of rage.

“I wish I could stop the suffering I’ve caused, but there’s no going back,” said Bowley, who pleaded guilty last week to murder in the Aug. 21 shooting of Sgt. 1st Class Jeanne Balcombe, 32, of the 55th Military Police Company at Camp Red Cloud, South Korea.

“All I can do is say that I’m sorry, but that will never be enough.”

Bowley made the statements during unsworn testimony, meaning he could not be questioned by government prosecutors.

Unsworn statements carry less weight in court during deliberations.

Bowley said he wishes he knew why he took a gun into the medical clinic at Red Cloud and shot Balcombe to death. Balcombe belonged to the same unit as Bowley.

“I shot an MP,” Bowley said. “I shot my platoon sergeant. I have to live knowing that I could do something like that.”

Bowley said he had a drinking problem, and alcohol “was pretty much the only way I could find to release (tension).” He said he tried to enroll in a treatment program, but that noncommissioned officers in his company wouldn’t let him. As a result, his drinking continued, Bowley said.

Reading from two prepared statements, Bowley apologized to the slain woman’s husband, Michael Balcombe, who flew from McMinnville, Ore., to attend the sentencing. But Bowley said he felt he could someday become a productive member of society.

“Still, I beg for mercy,” Bowley said to Col. Ronald White, the military judge. “I ask that I have another chance for life. Sir, I ask you to give me that chance.”  [Stars & Stripes – Jan. 29, 2000]

It must have worked because the judge in the case, Colonel Ronald White sentenced Bowley to 56 years in prison, but he was given the possibility of parole after 10-years.  Bowley wanted another chance at life and the possibility of parole left that opportunity out there for him.

Why Did He Do It?

The violence perpetuated by Bowley seemed to be out of character for him if you believe what his friends and family from his hometown in New Hampshire had to say:

Bowley’s father, Freeman Bowley, who lives in Henniker, N.H., told The Associated Press his son was “just a wonderful kid. He loved the Army. He was having a great time.”

“All I’ve heard was there was some kind of altercation at the base where he was at . . . and one person is dead. And it’s not Jacob. And he’s involved in the questioning somehow,” he said.

He said his son has been serving at Camp Red Cloud since November and was planning to go into the criminal justice field after leaving the Army.  [Stars & Stripes – Aug. 24, 1999]

Others in his hometown called him a “teddy bear” and a “gentle giant”:

Other testimony Thursday came from numerous people who knew Bowley from his hometown of Hillsboro, N.H. All said they were shocked to learn of the murder, many describing Bowley as a “teddy bear” and a “gentle giant.”  [Stars & Stripes – Jan. 29, 2000]

Clearly the so called “gentle giant” had some lingering anger management issues that was made worse by the drinking and drugs he was doing while in Korea.  In 2007 while confined at the Disciplinary Barracks at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, Bowley wrote a letter that was published by a Buddhist publication called Mindfulness Bell that discusses his anger and substance abuse issues and how Buddhism helped him address these problems:

I was confined in the summer of 1999, twenty years old and more a prisoner of my own deep inner fears than the walls around me. Wrapped up in the great speed of the world, I had been able — with the help of drugs and alcohol — to maintain in my mind an impressive illusion of control. Here in prison the reins were clearly not in my hands; I knew no way to keep up my speed. Forced to stop, or at least slow down, I had to face the bitter truth: my will did not rule the world. This disappointment was too much for me to contend with day after day so I closed my eyes in anger. I would rage against the whole world until it consented to the perpetual gratification of my senses.  [Mindfulness Bell]

You can read the rest at the link, but Bowley in the article said that he would like to become a monk whenever he is released.

The Aftermath

SFC Balcombe was 32 at the time of her early death and left behind a husband Mike Balcombe who was a retired Army NCO and two young daughters.  Her family was living in her home state of Oregon during her one year tour of duty in Korea.  SFC Balcombe was buried in McMinnville, Oregon at the Evergreen Memorial Cemetery.

She was buried with full military honors by an honor guard from Fort Lewis, Washington.  SFC Balcombe had previously served at Fort Lewis and all the soldiers in the honor guard either knew or served with Balcombe there.  Her husband Mike was presented her Soldier’s Medal, the second-highest honor that can be bestowed during peacetime.  The medal was posthumously awarded to SFC Balcombe because of her actions confronting Bowley which allowed other soldiers to escape the medical clinic.  Additionally in front of the Camp Red Cloud medical clinic a marker with a tree was planted in honor of SFC Jeanne Balcombe.  It can still be seen there today.  A final honor for SFC Balcombe was that in 2016 she was inducted into the National Army Museum.

As for Bowley I could not confirm whether or not he was paroled.  However, I was able to find a Jacob M. Bowley that lives in Hillsboro, New Hampshire, that is the same age as the Private Bowley that was incarcerated.

Additionally the Jacob Bowley in the listing is related to a Freeman Bowley.  Freeman Bowley is the name of Private Bowley’s dad as identified in the prior Stars & Stripes article.  So I think it is a pretty safe assumption that Private Bowley has in fact been paroled.  If he has been paroled it seems like pretty light punishment to be in jail for less than 20 years after committing such a horrible murder.  Hopefully he lives the rest of his life trying to atone for taking away a fine NCO from her soldiers and more importantly a wife and mom from her husband and two kids.

Further Reading:

Putin Says Global Strike to Disarm North Korea Possible, But Outcome Would Be Uncertain

Here is the latest on what Russian strongman President Vladimir Putin had to say about the current crisis over North Korea’s nuclear program:

Vladimir Putin

A global strike to disarm North Korea would be possible, yet its outcome uncertain, as it is a “closed state,” Russian President Vladimir Putin stated.

“Let us speak to the point, after all – can someone launch a global disarming strike? Indeed. Will it reach its targets? It’s unclear because no one knows for sure what is where,” Putin said while addressing the 2017 International Forum on Energy Efficiency on Wednesday.

He added there is no “100 percent knowledge” about North Korea’s objects as it is “a closed country.”

Meanwhile, Putin said, coercive rhetoric against Pyongyang and attempts “to speak from a position of strength” only give more power to the North Korean leadership.

The Russian leader urged all sides to cool down their rhetoric and engage in dialogue.

“All sides must ease rhetoric and find ways for face-to-face dialogue between the United States and North Korea, as well as between North Korea and countries in the region,” he said.

“Only this would help find balanced and reasonable decisions.”

“At any rate, it is not my cup of tea to define and assess policies of the United States president,” Putin added.  [Russia Today]

You can read more at the link.  Of course no one knows exactly where every strategic military asset the North Koreans have is located at.  However, we do know where the Yonbyong nuclear facility, their test launch site, SLBM barge, and missile manufacturing facilities are located at.  Taking those out would not end their nuclear or missile programs, but would set them back.

US Strategic Assets To Participate In Joint Exercise with ROK Forces This Week

There is going to be a lot of firepower in the Korea area of operations this week so it will be interesting to see what North Korea’s reaction to this will be:

This photo, provided by the U.S. military Oct. 13, 2017, shows the Ohio-class guided-missile submarine USS Michigan (SSGN-727) arriving at the southern port of Busan in South Korea. (Yonhap)

The United States is poised to show off its military might this week through joint drills and a defense exhibition in South Korea, deploying an aircraft carrier, nuclear-powered submarine, stealth fighters and other strategic assets.

The show of force comes amid growing tensions on the peninsula, with North Korea expected to engage in additional provocations in protest against the South Korea-U.S. military drills  (…..)

The allies’ militaries are set to hold a joint exercise in the East and West Seas from Monday to Friday, during which the U.S. will deploy its nuclear-powered carrier, the USS Ronald Reagan (CVN-76).

It is one of America’s key power projection means of countering military threats in a volatile region.

The 333-meter-long, 100,000-ton Nimitz-class flattop is stationed in Yokosuka, Japan, as part of the Seventh Fleet in charge of the Indo-Asia-Pacific region. The Reagan has a deck the size of three football fields, with some 70 aircraft on board, ranging from fighter jets to helicopters.

During the maritime drills, the Joint Surveillance Target Attack Radar System, the airborne battle management aircraft, is expected to be deployed. It is capable of monitoring North Korea’s ground force movements and coastal artillery.

The Ohio-class guided-missile submarine USS Michigan (SSGN-727) has already arrived at the southern port of Busan as part of a regularly scheduled deployment to the Western Pacific, military officials said.  [Yonhap]

You can read more at the link.

ROK Lawmaker Complains About the US-ROK SOFA Though It Is Currently Working the Way He Wants

Here we go again with the Korean left pushing propaganda about the US-ROK Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA):

Rep. Park Byeong-seug (left) of the ruling Democratic Party shakes hand with Chinese State Councilor for Foreign Affairs Yang Jiechi. (Yonhap)

Nearly 7 in 10 criminal offenses committed by members of US forces stationed in South Korea end up with no one being charged by South Korean authorities, a lawmaker said Tuesday.

According to government data released Tuesday by Rep. Park Byeong-seug of the ruling Democratic Party of Korea, the nonprosecution rate for crimes committed by US military personnel here stands at a whopping 70.7 percent as of July this year, up from 58.2 percent in 2014.

The figure for violent crimes, including murder, rape and robbery, is even higher at 81.3 percent, meaning 8 out of 10 offenders do not go through the Korean system. This proportion is higher than in 2014, when the number stood at 63 percent.

As for illegal drug use, which is strictly punished in South Korea, 42.9 percent of the accused members of US forces avoided indictment this year, up from 33.3 percent in 2014.

Rep. Park pointed to the Status of Forces Agreement between the US and South Korea as the main reason behind the leniency.  [Korea Herald via a reader tip]

Can someone name the last Korean that was murdered or even raped by a US soldier?  I can’t even remember the last murder committed by a US soldier because it has been so long.  The last rape accusation was back in February and guess what the soldier was charged by Korean authorities.  Since then nothing has come out about this case which people can draw their own conclusions about.  Bottom line there is not a rash of rapes and murders going on in Korea as Representative Park leads people to believe.  That leaves violent crimes being mostly assaults and robberies.  So why weren’t these servicemembers not charged by Korean authorities like Rep. Park Byeong-seug wants?  Because ROK authorities gave up jurisdiction to the US military:

He did not give details on how the US military dealt with those crimes it took under its jurisdiction, or what proportion of nonprosecutions were prosecuted by the US military.

“When such crime is committed by US soldiers, the US Army sends a request to South Korea’s Justice Ministry to give up the jurisdiction, and in most cases, we accept their request,” the five-term lawmaker explained.

“SOFA should be revised immediately to protect our jurisdiction rights and lives and property of our citizens.”

So what is Rep. Park complaining about the SOFA when it is working the way it is supposed to?  If Korea wants to handle every assault and robbery case involving a USFK servicemember they can.  However, they choose not to.  Why is that?  It could be because local authorities do not want to deal with the paperwork and the need for translators to properly handle a SOFA case.  Instead of complaining about the SOFA Rep. Park should take measures to ensure local authorities are better resourced to handle SOFA cases if he wants more servicemembers tried in Korean courts.

GI Myths: The Unfair US-ROK SOFA Agreement

However the real issue here is not the SOFA, but instead this is just another area where the Korean left is trying to draw a wedge between the US and the South Korean public.  Remember the Korean leftists want the US military out of Korea because they feel this is what is hindering reconciliation with North Korea.  However, the majority of the ROK public wants the US military to stay because of the threat from North Korea.  So the leftists have to demagogue these fake issues like the SOFA to change the public’s opinion of the US military.  They have for decades pushed this narrative that US troops are running around Korea committing all these crimes and getting away with it.  This is of course proven by data to be untrue.  This latest SOFA claim is just the continuing of this drum beat.

“Early” Transfer of OPCON of Military Forces to Korea Will Not Happen Until Early 2020’s

One of ROK President Moon’s top priorities after taking office was to push for the early transfer of OPCON to ROK forces.  The US government has pretty told him if he wants it he can have it, but the US side of the command will be downgraded to a three-star general:

Gen. Kim Byung-ju, deputy commander of the South Korea-U.S. Combined Forces Command, answers a question during lawmakers’ audit of the defense ministry affairs on Oct. 12, 2017. (Yonhap)

The South Korean and U.S. militaries will soon formalize a plan to create a new combined command, which will become effective when Seoul regains its wartime operational control (OPCON) of the country’s troops, the Ministry of National Defense said Thursday.

The allies plan to approve the scheme in their annual Military Committee Meeting (MCM) and Security Consultative Meeting (SCM) later this month, it told lawmakers.

The MCM is an annual session involving the chairmen of the allies’ Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS). This year’s meeting will be held in Seoul on Oct. 27, a day before the ministerial SCM.

“(The two sides) will authorize the creation of the future command of combined forces during the MCM and the SCM,” the ministry said in a report for a regular parliamentary audit of its affairs.

The allies will then draw up a specific scheme to establish a system to have a South Korean commander and a U.S. deputy commander, it added.  (……..)

But the U.S. is reportedly negative about the idea of a four-star general serving as a South Korean commander’s deputy in the envisioned command. The Pentagon is expected to pick a three-star general for the position.

The left-leaning Moon Jae-in administration, which took office in May, has pushed for an early OPCON transfer.

It’s considering a three-stage road map: laying the groundwork for strengthening the country’s own defense capabilities, joint military drills organized by the future combined forces starting in 2019, and an actual OPCON transition in the early 2020s.  [Yonhap via reader tip]

You an read more at the link, but I find it interesting that President Moon wants the OPCON so bad, but is willing to let it be pushed off until the early 2020’s when Moon will likely be out of office.  There is enough time between now and then for this to once again be delayed by the ROK government.

As far as the structure of the US Forces under a three star general it appears that the old KORCOM template from nearly a decade ago will be used:

Oten said KORCOM will have “many similarities” to USFK, but eventually will become a supporting command after South Korea becomes responsible for wartime operational control of its troops on April 17, 2012. On that date, the Combined Forces Command, the joint warfighting command now led by a U.S. general, will dissolve.

In its place will be what USFK calls two complementary but separate commands — the Republic of Korea Joint Chiefs of Staff, led by a South Korean general, and KORCOM. The CFC commander, Sharp, will remain responsible for leading forces until that time if war breaks out, USFK officials said. Both nations will retain control of their own troops during peace and wartime, but KORCOM will support the South Korean command during wartime, USFK officials said.

South Korea has had armistice control of its troops since 1994, but its forces would fall under the command of the CFC during a war.

Sharp said in recent speeches that KORCOM will reach full operational capability in 2011 and will become a supporting command to its South Korean counterpart the following year.

As part of the transition, the 8th Army will transform from an Army service component command into an “operational, warfighting headquarters” called field army, Sharp said Monday in a speech at the Korea Institute for Defense Analyses.

“This headquarters will have the ability to command and control U.S. and multinational corps-equivalent units in combat,” he said.

Maj. Jerry Pionk, 8th Army spokesman, who described an Army service component command as “basically a force provider to a theater commander,” said the transformation to a field army is ongoing and will continue for several years. A lieutenant general will continue to command the 8th Army after the change is complete, he said.  [Stars & Stripes – April 13, 2010]

Considering how much can change between now and this “early” OPCON transfer I put this all in the category of I will believe it when I see it.

North Koreans Steal OPLAN Because Someone Left an Unclassified Computer Plugged Into Its Secret Network

Here is how the North Koreans were able to get access to OPLAN 5015:

A South Korea lawmaker recently disclosed that hackers suspected to be North Korean gained access to Seoul’s highly secured military intranet in September 2016 and made off with the US and South Korea’s secret war plans.

“It’s a ridiculous mistake,” the lawmaker, Rhee Cheol-hee, told The Wall Street Journal.

North Korean personnel reportedly attacked a South Korean cybersecurity firm and embedded themselves in the software. South Korea’s military used the software on its military computers, but the North Koreans still shouldn’t have been able to get in because Seoul keeps its internet, or outwardly connected network, separate from its intranet, or private network.

But it took only one computer plugged into both the internet and the intranet for the North Koreans to break in, The Journal reported.

“They should have removed the connector jack immediately after maintenance work,” Rhee said.

As a result, North Korea reportedly got ahold of Operation Plan 5015, the US and South Korea’s secret war plan to kill the North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.  [Business Insider]

Maybe someone with IT experience can tell me why an unclassified networked computers needs to be plugged into a classified network for maintenance reasons?