Gen. Walter L. Sharp - New USFK Commander Takes Office
By Jung Sung-ki
Gen. Walter L. Sharp, the new commander of the U.S. forces in South Korea, pledged Tuesday to bolster the combined defense posture against North Korea, citing the communist state's nuclear and artillery threats.
In a change-of-command ceremony at Yongsan Garrison, Sharp, the former director of the Pentagon's Joint Chiefs of Staff, said South Korean and U.S. troops are "in range of heavy North Korean artillery.''
Sharp also took over as commander of the Korea-U.S. Combined Forces Command (CFC) and the United Nations Command (UNC), replacing Gen. B. B. Bell, who is to retire from the military June 9.
He said, "As an alliance, we must be prepared to fight and win. We're ready to respond quickly and decisively against any attempt to threaten the security of ROK." ROK is an acronym for the official name of South Korea, the Republic of Korea.
Sharp served here as executive officer for the U.S. Forces Korea (USFK) commander from June 1996 to March 1997. In October 1997, he pinned on his first star and was immediately rewarded for his USFK staff work with a command tour: 18 more months in Korea as assistant commander of maneuvers for the Eighth Army's 2nd Infantry Division.
In testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee earlier this year, Sharp urged South Korea to develop its missile defense system to be interoperable with the U.S. ballistic missile defense (BMD) network to thwart North Korea's growing missile threat.
He called the North the primary threat to security in Northeast Asia.
Pyongyang reportedly has some 250 long-range artillery systems capable of reaching Seoul within minutes. It is also believed to have deployed more than 800 short- and medium-range missiles that can hit Japan as well as South Korea near the heavily fortified border.
Last Friday, North Korea fired three short-range missiles off its west coast, following the test-launch of short-range missiles in March. Seoul's intelligence officials said Friday's test-firing was part of a military training exercise involving Russian-designed Styxs ship-to-ship missiles with a range of about 29 miles.
U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates, who held talks with his South Korean counterpart Lee Sang-hee earlier in the day, attended the ceremony.
Gates stressed in his speech that the ``unshakable" Korea-U.S. alliance will remain strong and be expanded beyond the Korean Peninsula to tackle global issues such as anti-terrorism.
Others present at the ceremony included Defense Minister Lee; Gen. Kim Tae-young, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; Admiral Timothy J. Keating, commander of the U.S. Pacific Command; and Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff.
Korea Times (Posted 6/3/08)