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CAMP RED CLOUD, South Korea — Offering “gratitude and appreciation” for serving on the front lines so far from home, South Korea’s Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade on Thursday thanked 2nd Infantry Division troops during his first visit to Warrior Country.

Ban Ki-moon used the trip to learn about 2nd ID’s facilities and training, exchange Christmas gifts with soldiers and pledge South Korea’s support for the U.S.-led Iraq invasion.

He also remembered the 35 members of Strike Force — a brigade deployed to the war from 2nd ID this summer — who have died in Iraq this fall.

“Sometimes, it may seem a hard task to guard the peace of a distant foreign country in such seemingly peaceful times,” Ban told the crowd of about 70 in the Commanding General’s mess hall at Red Cloud. “You may feel lonely. One of my purposes of visiting is to let you know you are not lonely, you are not alone.”

Ban also repeated his government’s support for the “six- party” talks meant to address North Korea’s nuclear program. The talks stalled this fall after Pyongyang leaders refused to return to the negotiating table, calling U.S. actions toward the communist nation hostile.

Ban and South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun visited their troops in Iraq earlier this month. South Korea has 3,600 deployed in Iraq, and the National Assembly is expected to vote before the end of the year on another one-year rotation for South Korean troops.

“I felt confident that peace and stability will soon embrace the Iraqi people, with the help of the concerted efforts of the coalition forces and international society,” Ban said Thursday. “In accordance with this cause, my government will extend the term of troop presence into the next year.”

On Wednesday, leaders of South Korea’s Uri Party visited Camp Casey for a briefing and a demonstration of a close-combat training facility. There, assembly members had a chance to ask questions about the U.S. military’s presence and activities.On Thursday, Ban’s visit was more formal. He was briefed, in private, for more than an hour with Gen. Leon J. LaPorte, U.S. Forces Korea commander; Air Force Maj. Gen. Thomas Kane, senior U.S. member of the U.N. Command Military Armistice Commission; Maj. Gen. George Higgins, 2nd ID commander; and Sgt. Maj. James Lucero, 2nd ID command sergeant major.

“I was just speechless,” Ban said after his briefing. “2nd ID is a tradition second to none,” he said, repeating a mantra of the division.

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