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American Forces Press Service

Cheonan Tragedy Strengthens U.S.-South Korean Alliance

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

CAMP RED CLOUD, South Korea, July 21, 2010 – For years, the catchphrase for U.S. and South Korean troops posted here has been “Katchi-Kapshida – We Go Together.”

The fact that the United States is a steadfast ally of South Korea is one of the messages carried by U.S. Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, who today visited with U.S. troops stationed here.

Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, spoke to 2nd Infantry Division soldiers and airmen. The servicemembers had a chance to ask the admiral about the situation in Korea and other topics.

Mullen earlier met with senior South Korean defense and foreign affairs officials in Seoul, the national capital. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates also are visiting South Korea. They, too, met with their counterparts, Minister of National Defense Kin Tae-young and Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade Yu Myung-hwan.

Mullen then took a helicopter flight to Camp Red Cloud and spoke to more than 200 servicemembers in the base gym. The meetings marked the 60th anniversary of the start of the Korean War – a war in which 32,000 American servicemembers died from 1950-1953.

The meetings also highlighted the continuing U.S. commitment to South Korea following North Korea’s March attack on the frigate Cheonan that killed 46 South Korean sailors.

“What has happened since the sinking has validated the U.S.-South Korean alliance,” Mullen told the servicemembers. He related how a senior South Korean leader told him that the Republic of Korea now really knows who its friends are in wake of the tragedy.

The alliance between the U.S. and South Korea has grown stronger since the Cheonan attack, Mullen said, noting that’s probably not the result the North Koreans neither wanted nor expected.

The South Korean government did not jump to conclusions following the sinking and did not launch rash actions, Mullen pointed out. The South Korean government withheld judgment about what sank the vessel until a special panel made up of experts from South Korea, Sweden, the United States, Australia, Canada and Great Britain delivered the report. The evidence was conclusive – a North Korean torpedo had sunk the Cheonan inside South Korean territorial waters.

South Korea presented its case to the United Nations Security Council and all 15 nations on the council voted for a presidential finding on the sinking. The finding says the Cheonan was attacked, but does not identify the attacker.

The “yes” votes in the Security Council included those of China and Russia – two neighbors with council veto powers. The voting “shows we’re all concerned about Pyongyang and where this leadership [North Korean dictator Kim Jong-il] goes,” Mullen said.

“He’s a pretty unpredictable guy,” the admiral said of Kim Jong-il.

The United States and South Korea will soon hold combined naval and air exercises to send a clear, strong message to the North that their attacks and provocations must stop, Mullen said. The first exercise begins July 25, and includes the USS George Washington Carrier Strike Group. Hundreds of U.S. and South Korean aircraft will participate, including Air Force F-22 Raptors – the most sophisticated jet in the world.

The United States has 28,500 servicemembers in South Korea, and that number will remain constant for the foreseeable future, the chairman said. The details of the U.S. footprint and capabilities those forces bring to the alliance will change over time, “but our commitment will not,” he said.

In fact, some of the details are already known. U.S. servicemembers can now serve three-year tours to South Korea and can bring their families. That option is limited right now as the United States and South Korea builds the infrastructure to support it, but some military families have already taken advantage of it. Mullen said there will be more schools, health facilities and housing for U.S. military families on the peninsula.

The U.S. footprint in South Korea will change, Mullen said. Camp Red Cloud itself – named for Army Cpl. Mitchell Red Cloud, who posthumously received the Medal of Honor for his actions in the Korean War – will close as the 2nd Division shifts south of the Han River to Camp Humphreys. Other U.S. bases in South Korea will close or consolidate through 2016, but the total numbers of troops in country will remain constant.

The United States must remain committed to South Korea and the region, Mullen said, as well as in other parts of the world.

“In a world that is so much more interconnected the requirements for global presence and interaction [is larger],” the admiral said.

As the U.S. military reviews its global footprint, one guiding principle is that America must remain engaged with other nations, Mullen said.

“Hearing problems from other peoples’ perspective … and understanding the cultures [is important],” the admiral said.

Mullen thanked the servicemembers for their contributions, and asked them to thank their families for their sacrifices. He said he would continue to put their well-being first.

“Every single day that I’ve had this job and I have decisions which cross my desk, first and foremost in those decisions are what do they do to you? You are out here making things happen,” he said.

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