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YONGSAN GARRISON, South Korea — The U.S. Navy will be able to rely on 50 years of history with its South Korean counterparts during the next few years of transition, according to the outgoing U.S. Naval Forces Korea commander.

Rear Adm. James P. Wisecup, who turned over command to Rear Adm. Thomas S. Rowden during a brief ceremony Tuesday, met with Stars and Stripes earlier this month to discuss his two-year tour as the senior U.S. Naval officer in South Korea.

He called the relationship between the two navies solid and said it dates back to the Korean War.

“The history is pretty well known,” he said. “They started out as kind of a constabulary navy and in the end became a warfighting outfit that today is one of our strong partners in this region.”

The entire U.S.-South Korea military relationship is in the midst of major changes as the two sides work toward a 2012 turnover of operational wartime command to South Korea.

The Navy relationship “absolutely is” evolving, he said, and Naval Forces Korea is working closely with South Korea and the U.S. 7th Fleet commander “as we try to figure out what’s the best way forward.”

Wisecup said they used recently-completed exercise training to help identify areas that need work.

“As a result of those exercises, we identify the kind of issues which — I can’t get into to, to be honest — we identify the kind of issue that we need to tee up and get figured out. And that’s what we’re doing right now.”

He said informal talks among staffers from each country, as well as frequent visits with the South Korean fleet commander, also are steps in identifying issues.

Wisecup said another exercise earlier this year was notable in that “we had almost the whole 7th Fleet here.”

“We want to make sure that no one misunderstands … that this transformation doesn’t necessarily mean … any diminished support for the Republic of Korea and, in our case, the ROK navy,” Wisecup said.

He also stressed that the U.S.-South Korea relationship is vital as South Korea prepares to launch its first of three Aegis-class destroyers — something Wisecup calls a “major milestone.”

“One of our major goals is to make sure that all goes very smoothly and that they’re able to bring this great capability into the ROK navy fleet,” he said. “It’s just a tremendous capability.”

Wisecup said one of the biggest challenges of his tour was that the roughly 350 sailors in the command are spread out across the peninsula.

“We have Navy people working in about 20 different little outfits here and my biggest challenge was trying to get my arms around all of them so that they all knew that there was a Navy family here in Korea and that they all knew that they had leaders that cared about what was happening to them,” Wisecup said.

He said the command wants sailors to bring their families, but that he has found many do not “understand Korea well in terms of a place to live.”

“When Navy people think about Korea, their view of this modern, bustling, democratic [nation] … is often not that,” he said. “What it takes is for people to actually come out here and take a look and that’s what I encourage Navy people to do.”

Wisecup said he was especially happy to develop a relationship with Korean War hero, retired Gen. Paik Sun-yup.

Paik, the first South Korean to earn the rank of four-star general, also served as the Joint Chiefs of Staff, South Korean ambassador to several countries, and as the Minister of Transportation from 1969 to 1971. He now serves as the chairman of the advisory committee for the Military History Compilation Institute.

Wisecup invited Paik to speak to the Navy community in 2006.

“He told great sea stories,” said Wisecup, a 1977 U.S. Naval Academy graduate. “The ability to transmit that history to the Navy people here was really very, very satisfying.”

Wisecup now moves back to San Diego to take command of Carrier Strike Group Seven. He laughed when asked if he would return to South Korea with the strike group.

“You never know,” he said. “She’s a Pacific Fleet-deployer — all the San Diego ships come here one way or the other.”

If he does, he said, he will have “local knowledge” that will make him more effective.

“That’s kind of the way we do it in the Navy,” he said.


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