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Army Gen. B.B. Bell, left, accepts the United Nations Command colors from the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Marine Gen. Peter Pace, during a change of command ceremony Friday at Yongsan Garrison, South Korea. Bell assumed command of the United Nations Command, U.S. Forces Korea and the Combined Forces Command from Army Gen. Leon LaPorte, on the right. Facing the camera is Command Sgt. Maj. Barry Wheeler.
Army Gen. B.B. Bell, left, accepts the United Nations Command colors from the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Marine Gen. Peter Pace, during a change of command ceremony Friday at Yongsan Garrison, South Korea. Bell assumed command of the United Nations Command, U.S. Forces Korea and the Combined Forces Command from Army Gen. Leon LaPorte, on the right. Facing the camera is Command Sgt. Maj. Barry Wheeler. (T.D. Flack / S&S)

YONGSAN GARRISON, South Korea — Promising to continue the “strongest and most successful alliance in the world” between the United States and South Korea, Army Gen. B.B. Bell took charge Friday of three military commands here that include all U.S. military branches and 14 countries.

Outgoing commander Army Gen. Leon J. LaPorte, who is retiring after almost 38 years, passed the three command flags — United Nations Command, Combined Forces Command and U.S. Forces Korea — to Bell in a ceremony in front of about 1,000 U.S and South Korean servicemembers and officials.

“I want everyone to know that I am committing all my energy and effort to ensuring that the alliance adapts and transforms as an enduring deterrence against aggression, and should deterrence fail, as a lethal war-fighting force for victory,” Bell told the crowd at Collier Field House.

Marine Gen. Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, presided over the ceremony, thanking LaPorte for his leadership during a dramatic time of change for both U.S. and South Korean militaries. He also pointed to Bell as an “incredible soldier” who has the experience to lead U.S. forces while continuing to implement major changes in coming years.

Since LaPorte took command in May 2002, both nations have agreed to shrink U.S. forces here by a third, have plans to turn over 10 major military missions to the South Koreans, and have spent billions of dollars to improve technologies. At the same time, North Korea has opened its borders slightly to South Korean investments and family reunions while declaring its nuclear ambitions and balking at dismantlement talks.

“He has indeed served during a challenging time,” said Yoon Kwang-ung, South Korea’s defense minister.

In his farewell speech, LaPorte challenged both the United States and Republic of Korea, South Korea’s official name, to keep strengthening the alliance.

“In the coming years, our ROK/U.S. alliance will be tested,” said LaPorte in a speech that at times sounded more political than military and drew a standing ovation.

The alliance, he said, would be “tested by a diverging view of the threat, by public debate in both the Republic of Korea and the United States, and attacked by those who see no value in this partnership, or who have much to gain from its dissolution.

“In the course of these discussions, those who love the alliance and all that it stands for must find their voices,” he said. “I challenge you to find your voice and show support.”

Bell promised to take up that challenge.

“Some may say that recent adjustments in our defense arrangements could be an indication of decreased resolves,” Bell said. “Nothing could be further from the truth. This alliance is effectively posturing itself to adapt or respond to whatever the future may offer.”

Bell said military transformation would be his primary goal, along with ensuring security on the peninsula, bolstering military readiness and improving quality of life for servicemembers.

USFK currently has nearly 30,000 servicemembers in the country, with plans to decrease that number to 25,000 by 2008.

First commissioned in 1969, Bell most recently commanded U.S. Army Europe. A Tennessee native, he also has served as commander of Army’s III Corps at Fort Hood, Texas, and as executive officer to Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf during the first Gulf War. Among Bell’s awards are the Defense Distinguished Service Medal, Legion of Merit with four Oak Leaf Clusters and the Bronze Star.

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