Rumsfeld Explains Evolving U.S.-Korean Military Relationship
By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
At a town hall meeting at Yongsan Garrison here, Rumsfeld praised almost 1,000 soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines from bases throughout the country for "serving on the frontiers of freedom."
Thanks to them and the troops who served in Korea before them, the country is now enjoying a free political system, free economic system and vast opportunity, Rumsfeld said.
South Korea is "not a country that is on its knees, brutalized and weak" as it was when it first entered into a close defense relationship with the United States, Rumsfeld told the crowd.
The country now has the world's 10th-largest economy and an increasingly capable military that's assuming increasing responsibilities for its defense, the secretary said. Already, the South Korean army has assumed six of 10 agreed-upon defense missions from the United States and is expected to pick up the remaining four during the months ahead.
"And as that happens, we will see (the South Koreans) playing a larger and larger role in the Combined Forces Command, and the United States will be able to play a lesser role," Rumsfeld said.
Reflections of this trend can be seen throughout South Korea, Rumsfeld said, with many U.S. installations being turned over to the Koreans and U.S. troops moving out of Korea as the Korean forces increase their capability.
Rumsfeld praised the troops for their role in helping execute this tremendous development in the U.S.-Republic of Korea military alliance. In doing so, he said, they're helping increase deterrence in South Korea while, at the same time, freeing up U.S. ground combat forces for other missions.
How this process will evolve over time depends on a variety of factors, many involving North Korea, Rumsfeld said. Among them is progress in the Six-Party Talks aimed at eliminating North Korea's nuclear weapons program and other efforts "to persuade them to manage their affairs in a way that is less threatening to the peninsula and to the world," Rumsfeld said.
As these changes take place, Rumsfeld told the group, the United States remains committed to standing side-by-side with the Republic of Korea and maintaining the close and historic defense relationship that has kept peace for more than 50 years.
"The vital work you are doing and the service of the troops of the 2nd Infantry Division up north are part of a long, noble tradition ... of American soldiering here on the Korean peninsula," Rumsfeld told the group.
"You folks do a superb job for your country, and your country is grateful and so am I," he said.
Troops at the town hall, who clapped, hooted and howled throughout Rumsfeld's remarks, expressed appreciation that he traveled to Korea to personally thank them and emphasize the importance of their mission.
For Army Pfc. Steven Moats, from the 532nd Military Intelligence Battalion, Rumsfeld's description of the history of the U.S. presence in Korea proved to be eye opening. "He explained why we're here today and that there's a good reason for us to be here," he said. "It was new information for me, something I had never heard before."
Army Pfc. Mario Vargas, also from the 532nd MI Battalion, said he was pleased that Rumsfeld let the troops know he considers their contributions to national defense as important as those from troops in higher-visibility parts of the world. "He brought the message to us that Americans support us and what we're doing here and that we're not alone," Vargas said.
For Army 1st Sgt. Elizabeth Roberts from the 527th MI Battalion, Rumsfeld demonstrated that "he really cares about the soldier."
"He's here for us and working for us," Roberts said. "He knows we're here and we're not forgotten."
Army Pvt. Ashley Spinks, a member of the 552nd Military Police Company, said she was impressed by Rumsfeld's friendliness and ease with the troops. But more importantly, she said, "he inspired us about why we're here in Korea."
Army Staff Sgt. Lance Nakayama, of the 501st Military Intelligence Brigade, said he was grateful to hear directly from Rumsfeld about events taking place in Korea, Iraq and the military around the world.
The secretary "gave us hope about where we're going as a military," Nakayama said.
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