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Civilian Leaders Learn About Threats, Capabilities in Korea

By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service

YONGSAN GARRISON, Seoul, South Korea, Sept. 13, 2004 – The commander of U.S. Forces Korea told civilian leaders visiting here today that U.S. and Republic of Korea troops "are standing shoulder to shoulder" throughout the Korean Peninsula, prepared to defend South Korea from aggression.

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Joint Civilian Orientation Conference participant Bill Kelley from North Chicago, Ill., chats with Air Force F-16C pilot Capt. Scott Gilloon at a static display exhibit at Osan Air Base, Korea, Sept. 13. Photo by Donna Miles

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Army Gen. Leon LaPorte told business, civic and academic leaders participating in the Joint Civilian Orientation Conference the mission driving U.S. military members serving in the Republic of Korea is simple and straightforward: to deter hostilities and to ensure that the Republic of Korea is not attacked by North Korea."

With the world's fifth largest military posturing 70 percent of its troops just north of the demilitarized zone that divides the two Koreas, LaPorte said it's a mission both the United States and the Republic of Korea take extremely seriously.

The North Korean military is "postured and deployed for very rapid offensive operations" that could come with very little warning, he said. And that, LaPorte explained, is the reasoning behind U.S. Forces Korea's motto: "Fight tonight."

"If deterrence fails, we need to be prepared to fight tonight," he said, "because we don't get a lot of time to get ready."

While ensuring that they are "trained and ready," LaPorte said U.S. servicemembers in Korea are preparing for major changes ahead.

Plans call for the 37,500 troops stationed in South Korea to be cut to about 25,000 over the next several years. Similarly, negotiations are under way to turn over the Yongsan Garrison to the South Koreans. This coveted piece of real estate in downtown Seoul is about the size of New York's Central Park. There are plans also to consolidating the 100 U.S. camps and stations dotting the Republic of Korea into 10 to 12 larger installations.

LaPorte calls the initiatives "a win-win situation" for both the United States and South Korea increasing efficiency and economies of scale for the United States, removing U.S. forces from heavily populated areas and returning the land it seeks to the Republic of Korea.

The changes, he insists, won't detract from South Korea's security, thanks to new technology and ways of operating that increase military capabilities. "The lessening of numbers is not a lessening of the U.S. commitment to the Republic of Korea," LaPorte said.

He calls the 53-year partnership between the United States and the Republic of Korea "a testament" to both countries' resolve and commitment to South Korea's defense.

While these changes begin, LaPorte said the "real mission and real threat" in South Korea makes it rewarding duty for U.S. service members, many who extend their tours to remain there.

Participants in the Joint Civilian Orientation Conference got to observe that dedication firsthand today. They toured the Hardened Theater Air Control Center at Osan Air Base, described as the "Cheyenne Mountain of South Korea," and viewed static displays of U.S. Air Force F-16, A-10, F-15E, F-117 and U-2 aircraft, as well as Patriot missile launchers.

Throughout the day, they got the opportunity to chat with servicemembers and ask questions about their jobs.

Later in the day, the group flew in Army CH-47 helicopters to Yongsan Garrison to meet with LaPorte.

Helen McAlpine, president of J.F. Drake State Technical College in Huntsville, Ala., said she was "most impressed" by the caliber of servicemembers she met throughout the day. "Far too often, we take all of this for granted," she said. "This visit affirms the commitment and responsibility of the men and women in uniform."

Dan Thomas, CEO of Concentra Inc., in Miami, said he was particularly struck by the pride he witnessed in the service members he met. "They're proud of what they do," he said. "And as an American citizen, I'm glad that they're proud of what they do."

This Joint Civilian Orientation Conference visit to Korea is the first stop in a weeklong tour of U.S. military installations in the Pacific.

The first U.S. defense secretary, James V. Forrestal, created the Joint Civilian Orientation Conference in 1948 to introduce civilian "movers and shakers" with little or no military exposure to the workings of the armed forces.

Nearly six decades later, it remains DoD's premier civic leader program. Participants are selected from hundreds of candidates nominated by military commands worldwide and pay their own expenses throughout the conference.

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Related Sites:
U.S. Forces Korea

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Click photo for screen-resolution imageArmy Gen. Leon LaPorte, commander of U.S. Forces Korea, describes the North Korean military threat to the Republic of Korea during a meeting with civilian leaders participating in the Joint Civilian Orientation Course on Sept. 13. Photo by Donna Miles  
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Click photo for screen-resolution imageCivilian business, civic and academic leaders step off a CH-47 Chinook helicopter after arriving at Yongsan Garrison in Seoul, Korea, Sept. 13. Photo by Donna Miles  
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