By Karen Parrish
American Forces Press Service
SEOUL, South Korea, Oct. 2, 2013 – Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel presided over the changing of the guard today at the U.N. Command, Combined Forces Command and U.S. Forces Korea change-of-command ceremony as Army Gen. James D. Thurman passed the flags to Army Gen. Curtis M. Scaparrotti.
“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,” the secretary said.
Hagel said he was proud to visit South Korea this week, along with Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and other senior U.S. military leaders, “to mark the 60th anniversary of the Mutual Defense Treaty, as well as the Republic of Korea’s Armed Forces Day.”
U.S. and South Korean forces stand ready to counter any provocation on the peninsula, he said, “and, if called upon, they stand ready to fight and to win.”
His visit to the demilitarized zone marking the mined, fenced and walled dividing point of the democratic South and the Communist North, Hagel said, “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 Thurman, whom Hagel called “one of the great Army leaders of his generation.”
During his 38 years in uniform, the secretary said, Thurman has distinguished himself as a warrior and as a leader in Desert Storm, Kosovo and during two deployments to Iraq – including as commander of the 4th Infantry Division.
Thurman assumed command “during a time of great challenge and uncertainty here on the peninsula,” Hagel noted. “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.”
Hagel said Thurman 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.’”
Thurman’s leadership has made the alliance stronger than it has ever been, Hagel said. Addressing Thurman, who with his wife, Dee, plans to retire to Texas, he said, “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.”
Hagel presented Thurman with the Defense Distinguished Service Medal, and Dee with the Joint Distinguished Public Service Award.
Turning to Scaparrotti, the secretary said he 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.”
Hagel said Scaparrotti’s calm demeanor, strategic vision, and proven judgment and leadership mean “he is prepared to lead this command at this moment in history.”
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