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Pace Receives South Korean Award, Thanks U.S. Servicemembers

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

SEOUL, Aug. 16, 2007 – Marine Gen. Peter Pace returned “home” today and received South Korea’s highest award for foreigners for his tireless efforts to promote security on the peninsula.

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Members of the Armed Forces Network Korea interview Marine Gen. Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, in Yongsan, South Korea, Aug. 16, 2007. Defense Dept. photo by U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. D. Myles Cullen

(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.

South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun presented Pace, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, with the Order of National Security Merit Tongil Medal during a ceremony at the Blue House, the president’s executive office and official residence, this afternoon.

The president presented the award for Pace’s work in “promoting military cooperation between the Republic of Korea and the United States of America,” according to the award citation. “His valuable dedication and service have earned him the appreciation and admiration of the Korean people.”

Pace and his family lived in Seoul when the then-lieutenant colonel served on the staff of U.S. Forces Korea and 8th Army. “I served here in 1986-1988,” Pace said during a town hall meeting at Yongsan. “I have come to really love this country and the Korean people and appreciate very much their friendship and hospitality. It’s good to be home.”

Before the ceremony at the Blue House, Pace met with Korean National Defense Minister Kim Jang-soo and Korean army Gen. Kim Kwan-jin, Pace’s counterpart. U.S. Forces Korea Commander Army Gen. Burwell B. Bell also met with the chairman and accompanied Pace to the various meetings.

Pace took advantage of the opportunity to speak at town hall meetings with U.S. servicemembers at Yongsan and at Osan Air Base.

At both town hall meetings, Pace thanked American servicemembers for their service. “What you are doing with your lives over here is what many, many Americans have done for decades -- teamed up with our Republic of Korea friends and with our (Korean augmentees to the U.S. Army),” he said. “You are part of the reason that Korea is strong and free and will remain so.”

Pace also spoke of the upcoming transition of responsibility for the defense of the nation to South Korean control. The Republic of Korea military will assume operational control on April 17, 2012.

“Whether they are in the lead or we are in the lead, we are going to be together,” Pace said. “We are going to be available to our friends for as long as they want us to be available to help provide security to this country.”

During the town hall meetings, U.S. servicemembers asked Pace to explain the Korean government’s negotiating with the Taliban for the release of 20 Koreans kidnapped in Afghanistan. The chairman said South Korea is a sovereign nation and will do what it deems to be in its national interest.

He also said that the Taliban is a terrorist organization that hopes to gain power by sowing fear. “If they are successful, they will go out and do the deed over and over,” he said. “So as nations think of how to deal with the Taliban or other terrorist organizations, it is not only the instant problem of how many are captive today, but how you resolve today’s problem so you don’t create more problems tomorrow and the day after.”

He said the United States needs to support South Korea “and ask how we can help, and if we have advice and it’s asked for, give it to them in private so they can digest it and make their own decisions.”

A Marine asked Pace why the United States still maintained the detention center at Guantanamo Bay Naval Station, Cuba. “The U.S. military would like nothing better than to close Guantanamo,” the chairman said. But he added that officials have not figured out how to close the facility in a way that is safe and does not release terrorists to further threaten the United Sates and its allies.

One option is to send the detainees back to their nations, but many nations do not want them back, Pace said.

“We have a judicial problem,” he said. “We have not figured out as a nation how to close down Guantanamo and properly deal with the enemy combatants who have told us that as soon as they are set free they want to turn around and (try to) kill us again.”

The general noted that the Justice Department and Congress are working to devise a solution.

He also looked back on 40 years of service as he prepares to retire Oct. 1 and noted that he is somewhat saddened about the prospect.

“But I am also immensely proud and confident,” he said. “I am proud of what each of you is doing and continues to do for our nation. And I am absolutely confident that we will prevail against all enemies as long as we have great young men and women in the United States and Korea who volunteer to defend our nations.”

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Gen. Peter Pace, USMC

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U.S. Forces Korea

Click photo for screen-resolution imageMarine Gen. Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Army Command Sgt. Maj. William J. Gainey, the chairman’s senior enlisted advisor, lead a town hall meeting with troops at the Black Cat hangar at Osan Air Base, South Korea, Aug. 16, 2007. Photo by Staff Sgt. D. Myles Cullen, USAF  
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