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Rumsfeld Spends Day With U.S. Troops in South Korea

By Kathleen T. Rhem
American Forces Press Service

ELMENDORF AIR FORCE BASE, Alaska, Nov. 18, 2003 – Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld spent the last day of a six-day trip to Asia with men and women of the U.S. military serving on the "front line of freedom."

He visited members of the Army's 2nd Infantry Division at Camp Casey, in the northern part of the country, then traveled by helicopter to Osan Air Base, south of Seoul, where he held an hour- long town-hall meeting with about 1,000 troops.

At Camp Casey, about eight miles south of the demilitarized zone between North and South Korea, the secretary toured a tank- and Bradley fighting vehicle- simulation facility. Army Col. Dan Bolger, the division's chief of staff, explained that the $8 million facility is used to familiarize soldiers on their vehicles and weapons systems "before we shoot rounds downrange."

Rumsfeld called the technology "amazing." "On these things you're so close to what you actually experience," he said on his way out of the facility.

Next, he visited air-assault students learning to "sling-load," or strap vehicles, containers or pallets beneath helicopters for transport. The secretary also stopped at the tank-maintenance facility for the 1st Battalion, 72nd Armor Regiment to shake hands with soldiers before eating lunch with about three dozen soldiers in a Camp Casey dining facility.

At Osan, Rumsfeld spoke to about 1,000 service members assembled in a hangar. He thanked them for their commitment and briefed them on plans to reconsolidate U.S. military forces in Korea to two major hubs south of Seoul.

After a long ovation from the troops upon arriving at the town hall site, Rumsfeld told them: "I wish all of you could have walked in yourselves and received a welcome like that, because you deserve it."

He said he feels "fortunate to be able to meet with the ones that are doing so much to keep the peace in such an important part of the world on this peninsula. "In doing so, you contribute to peace on the globe," he added.

Later, on the plane back to Washington, Rumsfeld told reporters traveling with him that the service members he had met were "terrific young folks" and "a delight to talk to."

"They have a self-confidence and good feeling about themselves and what they're doing and what they're capable of doing," he said.

Army Gen. Leon LaPorte, commander of U.S. and combined forces in South Korea, accompanied the secretary on his visits. Officials had announced the previous day that LaPorte was being extended in his current position until mid-2005.

Rumsfeld was in Asia to meet with U.S. allies in the region and discuss changes to the U.S. footprint. He visited U.S. forces and local leaders in Guam and Japan, and attended the annual Security Consultative Meeting in Seoul during his six-day trip.

He also had breakfast with service members stationed at Elmendorf Air Force Base, Alaska, during a brief refueling stop en route to Washington.

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