Minister Kim, General Dempsey, Admiral Locklear, General Thurman and General Scaparrotti, members of the Republic of Korea and United States Armed Forces, ladies and gentlemen: I am honored to join you for this special occasion.
I would first like to extend my greetings and appreciation to all the men and women of U.S. Forces Korea. And on their behalf, let me thank the people of the Republic of Korea for your support and partnership and friendship.
Minister Kim, thank you for the extraordinary hospitality you and President Park have shown me this week during my visit to Seoul. President Obama and I share your unshakeable commitment to this alliance. I was proud to be able to be here, with General Dempsey yesterday, to mark the 60th anniversary of the Mutual Defense Treaty, as well as the Republic of Korea’s Armed Forces Day.
This ceremony is yet another affirmation of the enduring strength of this alliance. Today, we pay tribute to J.D. and Dee Thurman, and we welcome Mike and Cindy Scaparrotti to United Nations Command, Combined Forces Command, and United States Forces Korea.
But today is about more than these distinguished leaders, and their devoted partners. It is an opportunity to recognize the contributions of every man and woman in uniform who stands watch here on “freedom’s frontier.”
Today we thank all the service members of this storied command – both Korean and American – who keep this country strong, prosperous and free, help preserve peace and stability in Northeast Asia, and stand prepared against any aggression from the North.
Over the past several years we’ve had the opportunity to see their courage, bravery and dedication up close. And over the past several days, I’ve seen it up close. I visited with soldiers from the Army’s 2nd Infantry Division and their ROK partners who were carrying out live fire exercises near the DMZ. I was enormously impressed by their skill and precision, and by the tremendous capabilities I witnessed at yesterday’s Armed Forces ceremony. The Republic of Korea Armed Forces are truly one of the best-trained, best-equipped, and best-led militaries in the world.
Together, our forces stand ready to counter any provocation. And, if called upon, they stand ready to fight and to win. When Minister Kim and I visited Outpost Ouellette on Monday, it was a vivid reminder of the perils posed by the North Korean regime. But make no mistake – our alliance will always be able to prevail in any contest on this peninsula.
For more than two years, preparing for that mission has fallen to General J.D. Thurman, one of the great Army leaders of his generation.
Growing up in the small town of Marietta, Oklahoma, General Thurman learned early on in life that the liberties and freedom he enjoyed were not free. They were born of sacrifices made by his own family, including his grandfather who fought in World War I, and his father and uncles who fought in World War II.
During his 38 years wearing the uniform of the United States Army, J.D. Thurman has upheld that patriotic legacy with great honor. He distinguished himself as a warrior and as a leader in Desert Storm, Kosovo and during two deployments in Iraq – including as commander of the 4th Infantry Division.
General Thurman assumed this command during a time of great challenge and uncertainty here on the peninsula. The transition of power in Pyongyang, and the continued provocations by that desperate and isolated regime, presented a series of challenges and crises – all of which General Thurman navigated skillfully and successfully.
He spearheaded a new counter-provocation plan that has increased our confidence in alliance capabilities, and sent a clear message of resolve to Pyongyang. Under his leadership, this command has become more operationally focused and ready to “fight tonight.” And as a result, this alliance is stronger than it has ever been.
Both our nations will be forever grateful for the General’s service and his sacrifice throughout an exemplary military career. He once said: “being with soldiers and being out there making a difference in the world, that’s why I serve.”
General Thurman, you have made a profound difference in the world. Your soldiers, their families, and your country, will always be grateful for what you and Dee have done for them.
We wish you all the best in the next chapter of your lives. As a point of personal privilege, General Thurman, let me also note that I’m looking forward to 2021, when your beloved Oklahoma Sooners are next scheduled to play the Nebraska Cornhuskers. The only time I suspect we’ll ever disagree.
Allow me to close with a few words about General Scaparrotti. General Scaparrotti is a proven leader who brings combat experience gained in Iraq and Afghanistan, where he led the International Security Assistance Force’s Joint Command. And he most recently served under General Dempsey in the Pentagon as Director of the Joint Staff, where I also had the chance to benefit from his wise counsel.
With his calm demeanor, strategic vision, and proven judgment and leadership – and with the love and support of Cindy, and their children – I know that he is prepared to lead the command at this moment in history.
General Scaparrotti, we are proud of you and we look forward to working with you to strengthen this great and enduring alliance. We thank all of you for your service to this alliance and to making a better world.