General Says U.S.-Korean Alliance Relevant, Ready
By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
SEOUL, South Korea, Feb. 4, 2006 The alliance between the Republic of Korea and the United States is relevant and military forces are ready, but people must speak out in support of the pact, outgoing commander Army Gen. Leon J. LaPorte said here yesterday.
LaPorte ended 38 years of military service and turned the reins of command of the United Nations Command, Combined Forces Command Korea and U.S. Forces Korea to Army Gen. B.B. Bell. Korean Defense Minister Yoon Kwang-ung and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Marine Gen. Peter Pace co-hosted the ceremony.
Diverse views of the threat cause many people to question the alliance's relevance, LaPorte said. While he said he welcomes a healthy discussion on the alliance, the general called on Koreans and Americans to marshal support for the pact. "In the course of these discussions, those who love the alliance and what it stands for must find their voices," he said. "We cannot be afraid of public scrutiny nor resent public debate. But the voices of those who love the alliance, who support it and its servicemembers, must be raised."
LaPorte said the alliance not only is still relevant some 53 years after the Korean War, "it is required. Fifty years ago, the ROK-U.S. alliance was worth fighting for. Today, the ROK-U.S. alliance is worth fighting for. And 50 years from now, the ROK-U.S. alliance will be worth fighting for."
The general acknowledged that the alliance is transforming itself and that there will be "frictions" along the way as U.S. forces return land to the Korean people, realign forces on the peninsula and find new ways to fight the war on terrorism. But he emphasized the need to work through those issues.
"I challenge you to find your voice and show your support," he said. "As the combined force transforms, support the alliance. As issues and frictions of working through the realignment of our forces and the challenges of burden-sharing is debated, support the alliance. As we work to return land to the Korean people and establish hubs, support the alliance. And as we work together to fight the war on terror, support the alliance.
Through a translator, Yoon thanked LaPorte for his service. "Domestically, the ROK-U.S. alliance goes through a realignment, internationally the war in Iraq and the North Korean nuclear issue have all together brought along a complex security environment," Yoon said. "He has indeed served during a challenging time."
Yoon commended LaPorte for his "active support" of the Korean government's peace and prosperity policy and in establishing the Inter-Korean transportation corridors.
During the ceremony, the three command flags passed from LaPorte to Bell. Pace spoke about the symbolism of the three flags.
"The first flag was for the United Nations Command," he said. "That flag to me represents the commitment of that international organization to peace and prosperity here on the Korean peninsula."
The second flag passed was for Combined Forces Command. "There is no other organization in the world that better represents the commitment of our two, free and prosperous countries to maintain that freedom in the future," the chairman said.
The flag of U.S. Forces Korea was the final one transferred. "Yesterday I had the honor to visit the Korean War Memorial Cemetery here in Seoul," Pace said. "The thousands of Korean heroes buried there fought side by side with some 35,000 U.S. servicemembers who died protecting freedoms on this peninsula. It represents all that we say about the cost of freedom and out commitment to each other."
Pace said that as a newly minted second lieutenant on duty in Vietnam, he served with Korean soldiers. "That made an indelible impression on me ... that I have carried with me for more than 38 years, and through every challenge to freedom around the world, U.S. and Korean soldiers have stood side by side to include today in Afghanistan and Iraq in ways that tell the entire globe that freedom is something we will stand side by side to defend," he said.
Bell promised to keep the ROK-U.S. alliance the strongest and most successful alliance in the world. "Together, Korean and American servicemembers, along with our United Nations states, ensure the peace and stability critical to defending the vibrant democracy and rich culture and international economic power that is today the dynamic republic of Korea," he said.
"Let everyone know that our nations are and will remain united in our resolve," he continued. The defense alliance will continue to ensure stability, deter conflict and fight and win decisively if needed."
Bell said changes in the alliance are not signs of weakness, but rather are producing a stronger and more capable alliance every day. "Transformational changes is normal, it's healthy and it's a sign of the alliance's maturity, vibrancy and increasing strength," the new commander said.