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(LEAD) New USFK chief takes command with pledge to be 'ready to fight today'

All News 18:59 April 30, 2016

(ATTN: ADDS more comments in last 5 paras)
By Park Bo-ram

SEOUL. April 30 (Yonhap) -- The new chief commander of the 28,000-strong U.S. soldiers stationed in South Korea took command on Saturday with a pledge to continue to be "ready to fight today" as he assumed the position amid unrelenting tension on the Korean Peninsula.

"It is my great honor to stand before you as the successor of the great lineage of commanders who defeated external threats, set examples of committed alliance, preserved an armistice and secured a course of peaceful development in progress for nearly seven decades," the incoming commander, Gen. Vincent Brooks, said during a change of command ceremony held in the U.S. Forces Korea's Yongsan garrison in central Seoul.

In the ceremony, Brooks took over from Gen. Curtis Scaparrotti, who had been the USFK commanding general since October 2013.

Scaparrotti will assume his new position as the commander of the U.S. European Command (EUCOM).

Brooks takes command at a time of unusually heightened tension on the peninsula as North Korea is preparing for its fifth nuclear test in the runup to the country's congress of the ruling Workers' Party of Korea on May 6. The highest-level political guidance body will be convened for the first time in more than 30 years.

"In the present, the challenges continue to rise, but so also do the strength of our alliance and the resolve of the United Nations ... We must look into the future with clear eyes, confronting the challenges to peace and prosperity," the incoming general said.

"I am both honored and humbled as I consider the immense responsibility inherent in these three commands," the four-star general said. "I will ensure that we are always ready to fight tonight."

Brooks, previously the commanding general of the U.S. Army Pacific, graduated from West Point in 1980 and served with United States Forces Korea in the 1980s.

"Carol and I are happy to return to Korea for another time of duty on this land that has given us so many memories before," he said. It "fills me with a familiar feeling of joy."

He also hailed Scaparrotti's skills as a combat commander and warrior diplomat that "have been absolutely essential in navigating the complex situations" before closing his inauguration with a well-known South Korea-U.S. alliance slogan in Korean that is translated as "We go together" in English.

With his current title as the chief USFK commander, he also serves as the commander of the United Nations Command and the Republic of Korea-U.S. Combined Forces Command.

In the ceremony, Adm. Harry Harris, the commander of the U.S. Pacific Command, said North Korea has become more dangerous than ever with its recent "provocative and irresponsible" behaviors, referring to the communist country's nuclear test and a string of short- to long-range missile launches earlier in the year.

"Most importantly, Pyongyang's behavior has immeasurably strengthened the ROK-U.S. alliance and unequivocally improved the ROK-U.S.-Japan trilateral relationship," according to the commander of the U.S. forces for the Indo-Asia-Pacific region.

"Thank you, KJU (Kim Jong-un). I bet you have never thought you would hear a shoutout like that," the commander said.

South Korean Defense Minister Han Min-koo said he is delighted to have the new commander "who is most fit to effectively manage the challenges and the changes facing the ROK-U.S. Combined Forces Command."

"North Korea is preparing for another nuclear test and more missile launches at a time when it is facing stringent sanctions for its fourth atomic test and long-range missile launches," Han said, adding that the alliance has been pivotal to containing North Korea's provocations.


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