Washington, July 02, 2021.- Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III praised the way the U.S.-South Korea alliance weathered the COVID-19 pandemic, saying leaders of both nations worked together to ensure troops’ safety and increase readiness.
Austin spoke remotely during the change-of-command ceremony at Camp Humphreys, South Korea, as Army Gen. Paul LaCamera relieved Army Gen. Robert B. Abrams as commander of U.S. Forces, Korea; Combined Forces Command; and United Nations Command.
The U.S.-Korea alliance is based on common interests, Austin said. It has provided the security needed for South Korea to rise from the ashes of the Korean War to become one of the leading nations of the world. «It’s a partnership based on common interests and a friendship rooted in common values — democracy, liberty, human rights, the rule of law,» Austin said. «We’ve worked shoulder-to-shoulder at sea and in the air and on the ground, defending a fragile peace and deterring the threat of aggression.»
Austin has said that given the challenges posed by the regime in Pyongyang, North Korea, and by China, the U.S.-Korea alliance has never been more important.
The United States has an ironclad commitment to South Korea. Austin reiterated that commitment in one of his first overseas trips as defense secretary. The United States is committed to the denuclearization of the peninsula and will continue efforts to make that a reality, Austin said.
COVID-19 complicated the situation on the peninsula, and Austin lauded Abrams’ efforts to contain the virus and still maintain combat readiness. «Abe didn’t wait around for a lot of specific direction,» Austin said. «He saw what was coming. He anticipated the crisis. And he took charge early on, well before anyone under his command got sick. ‘Go hard, and go early,’ he said.»
Abrams quickly raised health protection levels and ordered quarantines. «When things got worse, Abe and his team got busier,» the secretary said. «You can say a lot of things, but the numbers speak to his success with incredibly few COVID cases found among the more than 58,000 people he’s responsible for.»
Austin said LaCamera has his full support as LaCamera assumes the duties of the three commands. «I know it is not lost on you how high the stakes are and how critically important this alliance is to our national security and to that of South Korea,» the secretary said. «We have great confidence in your judgment, in your determination to protect the men and women under your command, and in your deep commitment to deterrence and security on the Korean peninsula.»
Abrams stressed that the command’s motto — Katchi kapshida or we go together — is far more than just a bumper sticker sentiment. «It is who we are. It’s in our DNA,» he said. «Only together can we face any challenge and be successful. And, over the last 31 months, we have had our fair share of challenges. And we have had much success. We reinvigorated our combined training program and put a laser focus on our preparedness to ‘fight tonight’ to defend the Republic of Korea. And, if ever called on again, I assure you [the United Nations Command, the Combined Forces Command and U.S. Forces Korea] are ready. This is our solemn obligation. Fifty-one million South Koreans sleep well at night because they trust us, and they know that we’re ready.»