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Gen. James Thurman has been nominated to replace Gen. Walter Sharp at the helm of U.S. Forces Korea, Defense Secretary Robert Gates announced on Tuesday.

Sharp, who will retire at the end of his tenure in South Korea, has led USFK since replacing Gen. B.B. Bell in June 2008.

He has overseen defense of the peninsula during a turbulent time in which the U.S. and South Korean governments have sought to calm an increasingly belligerent North Korea. In the last year, 46 South Korean sailors died when the warship Cheonan sank, allegedly by a North Korean torpedo, and four people were killed when North Korea lobbed artillery shells at South Korea’s Yeonpyeong Island.

USFK spokesman David Oten said Sharp was unavailable for comment Wednesday because he was involved in the ongoing Foal Eagle exercise.

Thurman is currently the head of Army Forces Command, the Army’s largest organization, and oversees the manning, training and equipping of more than 700,000 soldiers in the U.S. He is the former commander of V Corps in Heidelberg, Germany, and commanded a division in Iraq, Gates said.

Gates also announced that he was recommending Vice Adm. William McRaven for a fourth star and command of the U.S. Special Operations Command, succeeding Adm. Eric Olson, who also will retire. And Vice Adm. Joseph Kernan, Gates’ senior military adviser, has been nominated to be deputy commander of U.S. Southern Command, replacing Army Lt. Gen. Ken Keen. Marine Lt. Gen. John Kelly will succeed Kernan as Gates' top military adviser.

“I know each of these officers very well and I’ve watched them work and lead and fight in very difficult times,” said Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. “All of them are great leaders in their own right and all of them are ready for the challenges [ahead of them].”

From staff reports

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