SEOUL � In their black, U.S. Army-plated car outside Kyunghee University, Col.
Peter M. Champagne and his wife, Marlene, felt the thumps of democracy earlier this month.
Champagne was invited by his wife � a teacher at the school � to speak on
leadership and how he commands 1,800 8th Military Police Brigade soldiers at Yongsan
�We are here serving to protect a democracy,� said the colonel, a 25-year
Army veteran who holds a master�s degree from Harvard University. �I think the
law of respect is very important.�
In his forest green Army uniform, decorated with Ranger tab, awards and commendations,
Champagne spoke frankly to the 30 students in his wife�s class about the warning he
�The Korean police thought it was dangerous for me to come to the university,�
said Champagne, top law-enforcement official for U.S. Forces Korea. �People like
myself who wear a uniform should not be afraid to walk around Korea.�
But Champagne had visited the university the same day a U.S. soldier was acquitted of
charges that he negligently contributed to the girls� deaths � a decision that
has sparked sporadic and occasionally violent anti-American protests.
Learning a uniformed U.S. Army officer was in the university, some students organized a
quick protest, standing in wait outside the classroom.
More than 200 students held placards protesting the June 13 incident leading to the
trial, in which a U.S. Army armored vehicle killed two South Korean schoolgirls. The
protestors also held signs denouncing the U.S. government�s Iraq policy.
When class was over, they followed Champagne and his wife to their car, chanting and
yelling as the couple moved quickly through the hallways, surrounded protectively by
students from Marlene Champagne�s class.
In a fierce, intense scene, students kicked the vehicle while South Korean police tried
to clear a path. The Champagnes escaped injury but the car was dented.
The campus has been a hub for anti-American protesters wanting the U.S. military out of
Korea. Kyunghee students allegedly abducted a U.S. soldier Sept. 14 after a scuffle in a
But the impromptu demonstration was a South Korean first for Marlene Champagne, she
indicated. In her three months of teaching, she said, she�s never experienced any
The former Army major said she doesn�t hide her military past from her classes.
�My students � they are so hungry, so passionate, so eager to learn,� she
said. �I genuinely honestly believe they really do love me.�
The Kyunghee scuffle followed more than two hours of lecture by Champagne and classroom
participation in which students listened intently, asked questions and took notes.
His wife, some students said, is well-regarded.
�She is very passionate and enthusiastic, and she cares about her students a lot,�
said Lee Kang-hye, 23.
Most South Korean teachers have a much different relationship with students, said Kim
Hyung-suk. �The teacher lectures, and that�s it. She encourages the students to
participate a lot.�
Marlene Champagne makes students raise their hands, and they must talk in class and
share ideas, said Park Jin-woo, 25, who is studying business administration. �She
really has a good connection with students face-to-face.�
Later Wednesday, Champagne and his wife said they had no regrets about going to the
university. He said he proudly wears his uniform and dismissed the idea of putting on
civilian attire for the university trip.
�I applaud these protesters,� Champagne said. �That may seem kind of
ironic since I�m the guy in charge with protecting servicemen and their families, but
it�s a democratic right. That�s why people like me serve in the military.�
But the ensuing scuffle was inappropriate, he said, adding that when protesters commit
acts of violence, they �cross over the line � that�s what I get concerned
Champagne called the U.S.-South Korea alliance, a partnership that�s lasted more
than 50 years, as relevant today as it was during the Korean War. But both sides should
work to understand each other�s cultures, he added.