Wolfowitz talks to S. Korea-based troops
Stars and Stripes June 3, 2003
CAMP GREAVES, South Korea — Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz told soldiers and Marines on Sunday that he understood and appreciated the hardship of being stationed in South Korea.
But he wouldn’t speculate on how the U.S. might reposition its armed forces on the peninsula.
Wolfowitz was in South Korea as part of an East Asia tour that included a stop in Singapore, where he gave a speech Saturday before the second annual Asian Security Conference.
Monday, the secretary planned to meet with leaders in South Korea to talk about rising tensions with Pyongyang, among other things. Sunday, however, he took time off from diplomacy to thank troops at Camp Greaves, a few miles from the Demilitarized Zone.
As Wolfowitz spoke at Camp Greaves, a few dozen South Korean demonstrators in Seoul protested the visit outside the gates of Yongsan Garrison, home of U.S. Forces Korea.
Wolfowitz reminded the 500 servicemembers in attendance, mostly 2nd Infantry Division soldiers, that even as war raged in Iraq, “at the same time, we were preventing a war here in Korea” by maintaining a military presence. He added that the Pentagon is aware of the difficulty placed on soldiers who uphold this mission.
“I thank you for your service. I thank you for your dedication,” he told the crowd.
Wolfowitz declined to comment specifically on a soldier’s question about realigning U.S. forces in Korea. He said the Defense Department and South Korea would make changes as needed to take advantage of new military capabilities and to be more flexible.
“The North Koreans don’t stand still — we shouldn’t stand still either,” he said.
But he indicated that having a line of defense along a geographic zone like the DMZ is not as essential in light of a global rise in terrorism and random violence.
“The threats are much less predictable than they were in the past,” he said. “We need to have the flexibility to deploy rapidly.”
Wolfowitz answered several questions from servicemembers about deployment lengths and unaccompanied tours. He said it is the Pentagon’s goal to reduce family separation.
“It’s a hardship. We understand it,” he said. “We’re trying to figure out ways to get people home with their families.”
After the speech, he told reporters that plans for improving the quality of life in South Korea have been presented to Congress, but he said it is too soon to elaborate. He also noted that troops in South Korea are burdened by being away from families as well as by the gravity of their posting.
“They have to train as though there might be a war tomorrow,” he said. “This is difficult duty. We know that.”
In response to a soldier’s question about noncommissioned officers, Wolfowitz said the Defense Department is examining benefits and improvements to retain the senior enlisted, which he called the backbone of the military.
Several servicemembers asked the deputy secretary about Operation Iraqi Freedom and the lessons gleaned from the war. He responded that success in Iraq came from speed and well-integrated air and ground forces. He stressed the importance of joint and combined operations — those involving different service branches and different nations working together.
Wolfowitz spoke privately to several servicemembers after his speech and gave them each a Department of Defense coin.
“I think this has been a great opportunity,” said Marine Sgt. Michael Gonzalez, training in South Korea while deployed from Camp Foster, Okinawa. “To come to Korea for training, and then to meet the deputy secretary of defense.”
Gonzalez said he is pleased to receive one of the official coins, which are treasured by the military community.
“I recently just started collecting them,” he said.
Army Sgt. 1st Class Derrick Wilson, from the 1st Battalion, 506 Infantry at Camp Greaves, said he didn’t know what to expect from the secretary’s visit or a brief conversation afterward.
Wolfowitz asked him about his hometown.
“We just talked about home,” Wilson said.