(Yonhap Interview) U.S. general stresses commitment to keep 'peak'-level readiness through 'realistic' training
By Song Sang-ho
SEOUL, Dec. 14 (Yonhap) -- The chief of the U.S. special operations unit in South Korea highlighted its "100 percent" commitment Wednesday to keeping military readiness at the "peak" level through "realistic" training amid growing North Korean nuclear and missile threats.
Air Force Maj. Gen. Michael E. Martin, the commander of the Special Operations Command-Korea (SOCKOR), made the remarks, pointing to his unit's challenging training programs, like the Exercise Teak Knife designed to maximize troop readiness for various commando missions.
Through social media, his unit has recently disclosed a series of photos showing troops engaging in commando field drills, in what was viewed as a move to underscore its combat preparedness and send a warning against evolving North Korean threats.
"We think it's important that they understand that we give 100 percent every day to the alliance to train and ensure our skills and readiness are at the peak level," the commander said in a phone interview with Yonhap News Agency joined by Command Sgt. Maj. JoAnn Naumann.
"When we talk about strengthening alliances, we genuinely mean it by realistic multidomain-type training that tests us every day to ensure no matter what conflict or crisis confronts us, the alliance is absolutely ready to handle any kind of situation or scenario," he added.
The Exercise Teak Knife has drawn keen media attention here, as it was initially construed by some as a wartime program to target and "decapitate" the North Korean leadership.
Martin rejected that notion, describing the exercise as one designed to "integrate air and ground special operations to represent a realistic scenario in the defense of South Korea."
"I think people have taken the liberty, and maybe, there might be some miscommunication ... it's not specifically directed like to the decapitation," he said. "It is all about training and readiness, but I always consider that maybe it's people wanting to sensationalize."
Stressing his unit's unique special operations capabilities, Martin described his unit as "not a conventional force" that follows standards and norms, but one of elite forces armed with battle experience and insights. Martin himself has extensive experience through his previous deployments in Afghanistan, Germany and other countries.
"SOCKOR's role is to think first, to think of the strategic environment, look at what the direction that elected officials and senior military leaders are telling us, and think through," he said. "We would be typically known as some force that would do something either unconventional or irregular."
Martin also pointed out SOCKOR is represented by every branch of the armed service and works in all domains, including the maritime and air spaces, as seen in SOCKOR members staging airborne jumps and other missions.
All these SOCKOR features are geared toward maximizing readiness.
"The ultimate purpose is the highest level of mission readiness," he said. "Should crisis or conflict come, we have some solutions that we can present."
Asked to give some words to those wary of complex North Korean challenges, the commander said, "We are keenly aware of what's going on not just on the peninsula but in the region as well, then you would expect us to understand things like extended deterrence."
Extended deterrence refers to the U.S. commitment to providing a full range of its military capabilities, including nuclear, to defend its allies.
Command Sgt. Maj. Naumann also stressed that troops under her leadership will strive to maintain high-level readiness "at all times" to be ready "for any scenario."
"The operations that we would be called upon to perform really demand precision, and so our training is always challenging and realistic, and it is always ongoing," she said.
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