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Rigorous Training, High Readiness Continue in Korea, General Says

May 23, 2019 | BY C. Todd Lopez
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Last year's U.S. suspension of some military exercises it conducts in South Korea represents neither a concession to other actors in the region nor diminishment of training or readiness for U.S. or South Korean forces on the peninsula, the top U.S. commander there said.

A military officer speaks to an audience.
Abrams Remarks
Army Gen. Robert B. Abrams, commander of United Nations Command, Combined Forces Command and U.S. Forces Korea, speaks during the Association of the United States Army’s 2019 LANPAC Symposium & Exposition in Honolulu, May 22, 2019.
Photo By: DOD Screenshot
VIRIN: 190522-D-ZZ999-001

Army Gen. Robert B. Abrams, commander of United Nations Command, Combined Forces Command and U.S. Forces Korea, spoke May 22 at a symposium on land forces sponsored by the Association of the United States Army in Honolulu.

"As I've stated — and I want to be crystal clear about it: Combined training and readiness? It hasn't slowed down one bit," Abrams said. "And we are continuing to conduct very rigorous combined training at echelon."

Already in 2019, he said, more than 100 exercises have taken place. The biggest difference now, is that neither the United States nor South Korea is as vocal about that training, he added.

A helicopter flies over tanks.
Gunnery Training
Tank crews with the 1st Battalion, 67th Armored Regiment, prepare to qualify at Rodriguez Live Fire Complex, South Korea, March 19, 2019. The training allowed crew members to improve gunnery skills to maintain readiness.
Photo By: Army Sgt. Alon Humphrey
VIRIN: 190319-A-YG558-671C

"We go about the quiet, professional work that our militaries [do], continuing to keep our readiness at a very high level," Abrams said. "All contributing to very strong combined defense posture."

In the past, he said, large-scale military exercises served both as high-profile deterrence efforts and as a means to maintain proficiency and competency. While newer exercises will be lower key, the general told the symposium, they do continue to reinforce mission-essential tasks for both U.S. and South Korean forces at all levels. Abrams said adjustments have been made to the size, scope, volume and timing of those exercises.

American, South Korean service members work together.
Skill Exchange
South Korean and U.S. service members participate in a skill exchange field trip in Osan, South Korea, Oct. 10, 2017. The annual event that allows service members to demonstrate their military skills and learn from each other.
Photo By: South Korean Air Force Sgt. Park Sang-hyun
VIRIN: 171010-O-NQ385-780

"This was a prudent action in support of diplomacy," he said, the result of which is "bringing us into harmony with ongoing diplomatic efforts."

The United States and South Korea "field the most capable and the most disciplined ready combined force anywhere on the planet," the general said.

Abrams also hammered home, several times, that the relationship between the two nations is as strong as it ever has been.

"We refer to it as 'ironclad,'" he said. "In fact, I can confidently stand before you this morning and state that the alliance remains not just ironclad, but stronger, and more ready than ever."

Runners take part in a race, with two carrying U.S. and South Korean flags.
Comrade Marathon
U.S. and South Korean troops run together during the 15th anniversary of the Comrade Marathon, Sept. 8, 2018. The annual event allows family and friends from both nations to challenge themselves and support one another.
Photo By: South Korean Army Pfc. You Chul Lee
VIRIN: 180908-O-NQ385-609

Three elements contribute to that strength, he said, including shared sacrifice, common core values, and a demonstrated commitment to the partnership. That commitment is evidenced by the strong U.S. forward-posture on the Korean Peninsula, its deployment of defense technology and resources, and its rotation of personnel and equipment.

The South Korean commitment is evident in part by the emphasis it has put on its own defense, Abrams said, noting that South Korea not only has grown its economy since 1960, but also has put equal emphasis on its military capability.

U.S. and South Korean sailors in camouflage uniforms stand in formation.
Safety Briefing
U.S. and South Korean sailors listen to a safety briefing at the Naval Education and Training Command in Jinhae, South Korea, as part of exercise Foal Eagle, March 13, 2017. Foal Eagle is an annual, bilateral training exercise designed to enhance the readiness of U.S. and South Korean forces and their ability to work together during a crisis. The U.S. sailors are assigned to Naval Mobile Construction Battalion 5.
Photo By: Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Torrey W. Lee
VIRIN: 170313-N-CJ186-0100

"When it comes to fielding and resourcing a highly capable, disciplined, ready force postured for self-defense and to contribute to regional security and stability, we describe [South Korea] as an exemplary ally," Abrams said, adding that its armed forces have "come of age."

The South Korean government has committed to growing its defense budget "to historic levels"  — up to 8.2% growth by 2020 — Abrams said, which will bring its total defense budget to 3.7% of the nation's gross domestic product.

Click here to watch the general's entire keynote address.