Hagel Watches Training, Tours DMZ During Korea Visit
By Karen Parrish
American Forces Press Service
SEOUL, South Korea, Sept. 30, 2013 Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel traveled north from the South Korean capital today, visiting U.S. and South Korean soldiers, observing training, then continuing on to Panmunjom, site of the Demilitarized Zone separating democratic South Korea from its communist northern neighbor.
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel observes a gunnery range at Rodriguez Live Fire Range in South Korea, Sept. 30, 2013. Hagel visited with several military units along the Demilitarized Zone separating North and South Korea. DOD photo by Erin A. Kirk-Cuomo
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
At Rodriguez Live-Fire Complex, about two-thirds of the way from Seoul to the DMZ, Hagel observed training and certification of a U.S. Army 2nd Infantry Division platoon. The division’s soldiers certify on critical tasks annually, a spokesman said, and today’s training simulated breaching an enemy-emplaced obstacle during a mounted attack.
The joint, combined scenario involved U.S. Bradley fighting vehicles and Apache helicopters, and South Korean K1A1 tanks. Platoon leaders must incorporate air, engineer, indirect fire and allied capabilities to successfully complete the simulated mission.
Hagel spoke to U.S. and South Korean troops at the live-fire complex after observing the training. He explained he is visiting here this week to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the U.S-South Korean alliance and to celebrate South Korean Armed Forces Day.
“The South Korean soldiers are particularly important in this celebration,” he said. “And we want to help celebrate this special day. It's a day that also gives us an opportunity to acknowledge this partnership.”
The secretary noted that during this visit he also will preside, along with Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, over the change of command ceremony that will mark the transition of U.S. Forces Korea command from Army Gen. James D. Thurman to Army Gen. Curtis M. “Mike” Scaparrotti.
Hagel thanked the troops for the opportunity to observe their training, which he called “impressive.” He also thanked them, and their families, for the mission they are undertaking: protecting South Korea from its northern neighbor and maintaining peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula.
“I'm also here to send some time with the South Korean defense minister and the leaders of South Korea in talking about what we do next -- how we go forward with this relationship,” Hagel told the troops.
The secretary noted he received a 2nd Infantry Division jacket during his visit, which he wore to speak to the troops. “I shall wear it proudly, and I'll wear it more than just here to show off the 2nd ID,” he said.
The division’s soldiers have a big responsibility, as they are well aware, Hagel said.
“You are the only forward-deployed division we have in the United States Army in the world. … That responsibility doesn't cease. It doesn't ease, and it is one of constant vigilance, and I know that's a big burden,” he said. “But I suspect that each of you wouldn't want it any other way, or you wouldn't be here.”
Hagel said from the president on down, Americans appreciate what their deployed and forward-deployed troops are doing here and around the world.
“I know sometimes you're out here alone and wonder if anybody's paying attention and really does understand or appreciate what you do,” he said. “We do. And thank you.”
From the live-fire complex, the secretary traveled to the DMZ, where he and South Korean Defense Minister Kim Kwan-jin visited the Ouellette Observation Post. Also known as Guard Post 142, it’s closest to the dividing line and the last U.S.-manned outpost on the southern DMZ, all others being the responsibility of South Korean troops.
The secretary also toured Panmunjom, site of the line of demarcation, where both North and South Korea maintain military headquarters and keep vigilant eyes on each other.
Speaking to reporters at Panmunjom, Hagel said it’s “probably the only place in the world where we have always a risk of confrontation, when two sides are looking clearly and directly at each other all the time.”
There is no margin for error along the DMZ, the secretary said, and he credited the strong alliance between South Korea and the United States for keeping the region stable and peaceful.
“There's always a challenge; there's always a threat,” he said. “But this partnership and this relationship is really unique, and it has been able to manage through many ups and downs in the differences between the two countries that share the Korean Peninsula.”
Responding to a reporter’s question, Hagel said he believes Kim Jong-un’s regime in North Korea, which possesses chemical weapons, is watching closely to see what the world will do in response to Syria’s use of such illegal weapons.
“We've always got to keep in mind that threats that come from use of weapons of mass destruction are not limited to borders or regions,” he said. “They are global threats. And nations who possess those kinds of weapons and who are irresponsible do watch how the world responds and reacts.”
Hagel also responded to a question asking whether the Pentagon has considered reducing its about 60,000-member force forward-deployed to the Korean Peninsula.
“No,” he said. “There has not been any consideration or conversation about that. … The Department of Defense will manage through whatever reductions we have to take … [and] at the same time, assure our partners -- and specifically here in the Asia-Pacific -- that our commitments still stand.
“There's never been any consideration of changing our force protection or force presence here in Korea or anywhere else in this area,” he said.
South Korea has made great strides militarily, Hagel said, and “is continuing to enhance and improve and strengthen its capabilities in all areas.”
“And that's good,” he added. “That's what they should do and they want to do and we want them to do. And we're supporting that.”
As his final act on the DMZ, the secretary administered the oath of office to Marine Corps Capt. Bradlee J. Avots and promoted him to major. Avots is a member of the secretary’s public affairs team.
The secretary’s visit to South Korea will continue tomorrow, with senior-level meetings and celebrations in honor of South Korea’s Armed Forces Day.
Later this week, Hagel will travel to Japan, where he will join Secretary of State John F. Kerry and their counterparts for “2-plus-2” meetings between U.S and Japanese foreign and defense ministers.