ABOARD A MILITARY AIRCRAFT, August 21, 2014 —
Deputy Defense Secretary Bob Work spent the last day of his visit to Seoul, South Korea, talking with troops and military officials on both sides of the long-time alliance, and seeing firsthand partners at work on the common job of defending South Korea against North Korean aggression.
A steady hard rain drenched Seoul’s urban sprawl this morning as Work and his team headed for U.S. Army Garrison - Humphreys, located about 40 miles south of Seoul and home of the Army's most active airfield.
The base is also the center of the largest construction and transformation project, at $10.7 billion, in the Defense Department’s history. Humphreys’ leadership briefed the deputy secretary.
To posture forces to support U.S. and South Korean national interests on the peninsula, both governments agreed to consolidate U.S. Forces Korea into two hubs. The largest of these will be Camp Humphreys.
By moving into less-congested southern areas of the peninsula, according to the Humphreys website, the Army will improve readiness and efficiencies and enhance its partnership with local communities. In the years ahead, the Camp Humphreys military community population will grow from 10,000 to 36,000 soldiers, civilians and family members.
Construction projects underway include unit headquarters buildings, vehicle maintenance facilities, barracks, family housing, medical facilities, a military communications complex, a commissary, a post exchange, schools and child development centers. Several barracks, family housing units and supporting underground utility systems are completed and occupied.
Next, the deputy secretary visited the Ulchi Freedom Guardian Exercise at Command Post TANGO -- for theater air naval ground operations -- a high-tech bunker that serves as the Korean theater’s main warfighting headquarters, led by Army Gen. Curtis M. Scaparrotti, commander of U.S. Forces Korea, United Nations Command, and Combined Forces Command.
Other countries participating in Ulchi Freedom Guardian are Australia, Canada, Colombia, Denmark, France, Italy, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway and the United Kingdom. And DoD officials say representatives from the Neutral Nations Supervisory Committee will attend the exercise to monitor its compliance with terms of the 1953 Armistice Agreement.
This afternoon, Work visited Osan Air Base to review alliance force posture initiatives, continue observing the Ulchi Freedom Guardian exercise, and speak with U.S and South Korean troops.
The air base, 48 miles south of the Korean demilitarized zone, is home to the 51st Fighter Wing and 24 tenant units, including the Seventh Air Force. It’s the most forward-deployed permanently based wing in the Air Force.
Work greeted about 100 men and women in uniform and brought thanks from Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel for their dedication and service. After answering their questions he took photos with them and gave them challenge coins from his office.
“I just came from C.P. TANGO,” the deputy secretary told them. “I think you all know that Ulchi Freedom Guardian is going on right now and I visited the floor.”
Seeing the U.S., South Korean and other allied forces working together, he added, “gives me great confidence that this is an extremely strong alliance and that together we will be able to deter North Korea’s provocative actions and continue to provide peace and security in Northeast Asia.”
Focusing on North Korea, Work said that nation has always had a lot of artillery that ranges Seoul, just 35 miles from the North Korean border.
“But now the North Koreans are putting a lot of emphasis on missiles and it is an extremely difficult problem. In our view the constant missile shots are provocative and essentially are sending a threat,” Work said, “so we believe that theater missile defense is absolutely critical for the U.S.-South Korean alliance.”
The deputy defense secretary said he thinks the U.S.-South Korean military alliance should integrate their forces. He also said assets like theater missile defense, command, control, communications, computers and intelligence, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, and munitions should be made interoperable.
Making such systems interoperable across the militaries can make the alliance better, Work said, “but I've got to tell you, this is one of the strongest alliances we've ever had and we value the partnership with South Korea. Together we are going to make sure the deterrence holds in Northeast Asia.”
The alliance’s secret weapon, though, he added, is people working together with creativity and focus.
Work arrives in Tokyo, Japan, tonight for the final visit of his weeklong trip.
“What I wanted to get out of this trip was a sense of what was happening in the region,” Work said.
“I wanted to hear from the leaders of South Korea on their perspective on the state of our alliance as well as all of the initiatives that we have,” he added. “So I will do the same thing in the next two days in Japan. I would like to hear the perspectives of the Japanese leaders and all of the initiatives that are occurring there.”
The department values its alliance with Japan as much as it values its alliance with South Korea, the deputy secretary said.
“We think both of these alliances are absolutely critical to security in Northeast Asia as well as in the broader Asia-Pacific region,” he said.
“We believe that sharing information among our three countries in a trilateral nature is a thing that will improve security throughout the region,” Work added. “So I look forward to talking with the leaders of both countries on how we might be able to further the interactions among all three of our leaders and our militaries.”
(Follow Cheryl Pellerin on Twitter: @PellerinDoDNews)