Good morning. Thank you all for being with us.
I would especially like to thank Minister Lee, with whom I had a productive discussion this morning. Minister Lee and I discussed the alliance between our two countries – one that has fostered peace and prosperity in Asia for over half a century, and is strong and healthy today. The Republic of Korea remains a faithful friend and stalwart partner of the United States.
Minister Lee leads a Korean defense establishment that is one of the best trained, best equipped, and best led military forces in the world. In 2012, it will be commanded in wartime by a Korean officer for the first time in nearly six decades. This is a desirable change, both of our countries agree. And for America’s part, the planned transition has in no way altered – nor will it, in the future, alter – the closeness of our alliance. The United States has an unshakeable commitment to the Republic of Korea and to our alliance, which has served both our nations, and the world, so well.
Today, we recognize the work and career of General B.B. Bell, who has so ably led the United Nations Command, Combined Forces Command, and United States Forces Korea for the last two-and-a-half years. As he leaves Korea, General Bell leaves a USFK that continues to be ready to fight and prevail in any contest on this Peninsula in support of our South Korean ally.
He has aggressively worked to ensure that the U.S.-South Korean alliance remains strong by implementing our realignment agreements and overseeing the development of Camp Humphreys. His steadfast effort to advance the OPCON transition – our strategic plan for the restructuring of wartime command relations – has set us on course to successfully complete this historic change. In addition, General Bell has energetically promoted positive interaction between the troops stationed here and Korean citizens through his Good Neighbor Program. The result has been an improved relationship between U.S. personnel and the people of South Korea.
I note that since General Bell has been here, the initials “B.B.” have come to stand not for “Burwell Baxter” but for “Baek Bo-guk” – a nickname he was given, which means, “the defender of his country.” High praise from his hosts, and an indication of his bedrock belief in the Korean-American partnership.
General Bell’s 39 years in the Army have been filled with impressive accomplishments, in the United States and abroad. He commanded the U.S. Army’s Armor Center at Fort Knox. He led U.S. Army Europe at a time when our posture there was being overhauled. The work he did in Europe was instrumental not only in realigning our forces there, but in preparing NATO deployments for operations in Afghanistan.
B.B. and his wife Katie are inseparable, and we thank Katie for all the sacrifices she has made to support his career, and to better the lives of all of the soldiers, sailors, Marines, and airmen, and allies with whom General Bell has served. During their service in Korea, the Bells have grown very fond of this country, and I know they intend to make return visits with their Korean adopted granddaughter, Jin-Hui.
The well-deserved retirement that lies ahead is back home in Chattanooga. He is a fisherman, and I understand he always throws the trout back in the stream. I guess that way there’s no evidence. B.B., here’s hoping you land more than a few big ones.
General Bell’s successor, General Walter Sharp, who also calls Tennessee home, is the right man to maintain this important alliance and continue to transform it so that it is even stronger in the 21st century. His previous experience in Korea and years on the Joint Staff have prepared him well for this command. A proven organizer and leader, General Sharp will work hand-in-hand with our Korean friends, military and civilian, to preserve and strengthen this bulwark of freedom that has deterred armed aggression against the Republic of Korea. Having worked with you at the Pentagon, Skip, I know how good you are at what you do and look forward to seeing you thrive in this new role. I wish you and Joanne the best.