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Cohen Praises U.S. Troops in Korea

By Linda D. Kozaryn
American Forces Press Service

SEOUL, April 14, 1997 – U.S. service members in Korea are the "steel in the sword of freedom," said U.S. Defense Secretary William S. Cohen from atop a windy hilltop overlooking North Korea.

"You are the ones giving America muscle behind our willpower to become engaged in world affairs," he said. "Every one of you understands the best way to preserve the peace is to be prepared to fight the wars that can't be deterred. That's exactly why you're here."

Cohen traveled to Korea April 10 and 11, the last leg of a week-long tour to the Asian Pacific Region. He visited the U.S. Army's Camp Bonifas at the demilitarized zone and Camp Casey north of Seoul.

He told troops at Camp Casey and elsewhere they are deeply appreciated for the sacrifice they make on behalf of the people of the Republic of Korea and the United States. U.S. forces have a tremendous responsibility, and they're carrying it out with extraordinary capability and competence, he said.

Hope prevails for a peaceful reunification of the two Koreas, Cohen said, but in the meantime, U.S. forces help keep the Republic of Korea free and prosperous. He commended them for their commitment of time away from their families, hard work, dedication and sacrifice.

A United Nations Command Joint Security Force made up of U.S. and Republic of Korea soldiers maintain the 1953 armistice agreement. Army S.Sgt. Timothy Kunsman, a training NCO, is one of about 200 U.S. soldiers serving with the U.N. Command's Security Battalion.

Kunsman is stationed at Camp Bonifas, named for Army Capt. Mark Bonifas, who was axed to death by North Korean soldiers in 1976. Life at the northern camp includes learning to sleep through almost nightly propaganda broadcasts blasted from North Korean loudspeaders. Duty in the demilitarized zone involves "basically being on call 24 hours a day to do anything that comes up," Kunsman said.

The Hallstead, Pa., native said he volunteered for duty in Korea. "I wanted to be part of the situation here. I wanted to see North Korean soldiers. From what I read in the papers -- with the food situation and all --I think the situation is going to be a lot different within a year."

Army Spc. Jonathan Wood, of Harrisburg, Pa., has spent 2 1/2 months of his one-year tour in Korea. He said he, too, realizes he may witness history in the making.

"With the possibility of the North coming to a peace agreement finally, I think it's a monumental time for me to be here," he said. "Hopefully, in the year that I'm here, we will see reunification and the wall taken down here as it was in Germany."

Army Sgt. Derek Gondek, an infantryman from Lewiston, Maine, said duty at the demilitarized zone is quite peaceful. "You would think with North Korea being right there, it would be quite stressful," he said. "But it's more relaxing than being in a large city."

Gondek said he is proud to be serving at the demilitarized zone. "All these visitors we've had here within the past month, shows you how important this place is," he said. "It gives you a lot of pride knowing the Army chose you to serve here.

"Last month we had Secretary of State Madeleine Albright. She was followed by Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich. Then Vice President [Al] Gore came up. Yesterday we had Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Army Gen. [John] Shalikashvili, and today we have Mr. Cohen."

U.S. troops are aware of international concerns about famine in the North, Gondek said, but it hasn't affected the mission. "From a military aspect, we do our job no matter what, we just continue on."

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