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From left, Adm. Timothy Keating, commander of the U.S. Pacific Command; Gen. B.B. Bell, former U.S. Forces Korea commander; and Gen. Walter Sharp, new U.S. Forces Korea commander, salute during a change of command ceremony Tuesday at Yongsan Garrison, South Korea.

From left, Adm. Timothy Keating, commander of the U.S. Pacific Command; Gen. B.B. Bell, former U.S. Forces Korea commander; and Gen. Walter Sharp, new U.S. Forces Korea commander, salute during a change of command ceremony Tuesday at Yongsan Garrison, South Korea. (Horacio Lozano / U.S. Army)

From left, Adm. Timothy Keating, commander of the U.S. Pacific Command; Gen. B.B. Bell, former U.S. Forces Korea commander; and Gen. Walter Sharp, new U.S. Forces Korea commander, salute during a change of command ceremony Tuesday at Yongsan Garrison, South Korea.

From left, Adm. Timothy Keating, commander of the U.S. Pacific Command; Gen. B.B. Bell, former U.S. Forces Korea commander; and Gen. Walter Sharp, new U.S. Forces Korea commander, salute during a change of command ceremony Tuesday at Yongsan Garrison, South Korea. (Horacio Lozano / U.S. Army)

Gen. B.B. Bell hands the U.S. Forces Korea colors to Adm. Timothy Keating, commander of the U.S. Pacific Command, during a change of command ceremony Tuesday at Yongsan Garrison in which Gen. Walter Sharp, left, assumed command.

Gen. B.B. Bell hands the U.S. Forces Korea colors to Adm. Timothy Keating, commander of the U.S. Pacific Command, during a change of command ceremony Tuesday at Yongsan Garrison in which Gen. Walter Sharp, left, assumed command. (Kelly Lowery / U.S. Army)

SEOUL — Promising to make South Korea the "station of choice" for servicemembers, Army Gen. Walter Sharp took command of 28,500 U.S. troops Tuesday during a ceremony at Collier Field House.

Sharp, born when his father fought in the Korean War, is succeeding Gen. B.B. Bell, who retires on June 9 after 39 years in the military.

As U.S. Forces Korea commander, Sharp also is in charge of the United Nations Command and Combined Forces Command.

Sharp called the U.S.-South Korea alliance "one of the most enduring in the world," and said USFK would continue to deter North Korean aggression. Sharp said he wanted to continue to improve the quality of life for troops in South Korea, and to push for three-year, family-accompanied tours. Servicemembers typically serve one-year unaccompanied tours.

"Our goal is to rapidly reach the point where all families can stay here," he said.

About 700 people attended the ceremony, including Secretary of Defense Robert Gates; Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Mike Mullen; Adm. Timothy Keating, commander of U.S. Pacific Command; U.S. Ambassador to South Korea Alexander Vershbow; and Lee Sang-hee, South Korea’s defense minister.

Bell, who will retire to Chattanooga, Tenn., said his 2 1/2 years in South Korea had been the most memorable of his military career, and the country’s military was among the best he had seen during his 15 years overseas.

"I can tell you that none of them is superior to the armed forces of Korea. None," he said.

He said the U.S. military presence in South Korea is important not just to deter North Korean aggression, but because South Korea is geographically and politically important in Asia and brings stability to the region.

He choked up as he started to thank his wife, Katie, calling her his "beloved." He skipped over the portion of his speech directed to her and promised to read it to her in private.

"I’m a tough soldier, but this is hard," he said, then joked that he needed to do some push-ups.

Officials said the alliance between South Korea and the United States continues to grow stronger.

Mullen said the two countries have an inseparable strategic partnership with regional and global implications.

Gates said the United States has an "unshakable commitment" to South Korea, and Sharp is the right person to lead USFK.

"Having worked with you at the Pentagon, I know how good you are at what you do," he said.

Sharp most recently was the director of the Pentagon’s Joint Staff, and was responsible for making sure Mullen’s decisions were carried out on a day-by-day basis. He graduated from West Point in 1974, and served back-to-back tours in South Korea — as executive officer for the USFK commander from June 1996 to March 1997, and then as assistant commander (maneuver) for the 8th Army’s 2nd Infantry Division. He has served in Desert Shield, Desert Storm, and in Haiti and Bosnia.


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