USS Ronald Reagan visits S. Korean port after weeklong joint naval drills
BUSAN, South Korea — The USS Ronald Reagan and its strike group of ships, aircraft and sailors made a port call Saturday in Busan after a week of naval drills with South Korea.
The nuclear-powered aircraft carrier, which is based in Yokosuka, Japan, arrived on the divided peninsula during a period of heightened rhetoric between North Korea and Washington over the communist state’s nuclear weapons program.
The North has threatened “unimaginable” strikes after the drills as American aircraft carriers in particular continue to be a favorite target of Kim Jong Un’s propaganda machine. A series of videos on North Korea’s state run website showed simulations of missile strikes destroying the aircraft carriers and their fleets earlier this year.
Rear Adm. Marc Dalton, commander of the Ronald Reagan strike group, said the joint drills were routine and a consequence of a 64-year alliance of mutual defense.
“This port visit is the perfect ending to this regularly scheduled exercise with our Republic of Korea Navy counterparts,” he said.
The five-day drills that ended Friday involved fighter jets, helicopters and 40 naval ships and submarines from the two countries training for potential North Korean aggression. In an apparent show of force against North Korea, the U.S. also sent several of its advanced warplanes, including four F-22 and F-35 fighter jets and two B-1B long-range bombers, for an air show and exhibition in Seoul that began on Tuesday.
The Ronald Reagan, which also docked in Busan last October, is the latest in a series of U.S. warships and aircraft to travel to South Korea in a show of military might and commitment to the decades-old alliance between the countries.
While local South Koreans greeted the sailors in traditional dress and Busan businesses will surely benefit from the thousands of sailors swarming the city ready to empty their wallets after being pent up at sea, not everyone was excited about the massive ship showing up on South Korea’s southern doorstep.
A large sign saying “U.S. troops go home” and an accompanying song greeted the sailors at the naval base’s front gate. A group of older fishermen sat ambivalent along docks worrying more about the day’s catch than the U.S. ships.
Jeong Jun-ho, 15, of Busan, jumped out of his family’s car to watch the Ronald Reagan pull into port. “I’m scared about this; I don’t like war,” he told Stars and Stripes as he clutched his younger cousin.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.