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U.S. Rep. Conor Lamb calls trip to South Korea, DMZ an "incredible experience'

By J.D. PROSE | The Beaver County Times (Tribune News Service) | Published: July 12, 2018

U.S. Rep. Conor Lamb said his recent trip to South Korea and the demilitarized zone was an "incredible experience" that eased concerns he had about the strain on the military's readiness level in the midst of ongoing tensions with North Korea.

After returning on Tuesday from spending three days in South Korea, Lamb, D-Pa., said he was "very pleasantly surprised and impressed with the state of things over there" after the five-member congressional delegation he was a part of received briefings on various military scenarios and planned responses.

Lamb and U.S. Rep. Keith Rothfus, R-Pa., are locked in a high-profile battle for the new 17th Congressional District seat, which covers Beaver County, part of Cranberry Township in Butler County and a large portion of Allegheny County.

On Wednesday, Lamb, who sits on the House Committee on Veterans' Affairs, said he was invited on the trip by U.S. Rep. Mike Turner, R-Ohio, the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee's subcommittee on tactical air and land forces.

Lamb, a Marine Corps veteran, said the delegation visited the border area with North Korea and he came away with an appreciation for the dangers the troops there live with daily when he saw two North Korean troops taking photos from the other side of the border.

"It was kind of an intense experience to look out at the other side," Lamb said. "You realize you're staring in the face of a regime that imprisons, tortures and starves their own people."

The visitors were also taken to the spot where a North Korean solider defected by sprinting across the border while his comrades unleashed a barrage of gunfire at him. The defecting soldier was wounded but survived.

Lamb said the delegation members were shown the bullet holes still in the pavement from the incident.

Lamb said he left the DMZ impressed with "how well-trained and alert and prepared our troops are out there." He also said he now has a better insight into what American troops need in the DMZ and why certain equipment and weapons are requested, and he could share that experience with House colleagues who question proposed spending.

"If you haven't seen it yourself, it might be hard to appreciate," he said.

The delegation also visited Osan Air Base and U.S. Army Garrison Humphreys south of the DMZ. Lamb said he talked to troops of various ranks and found them to be "upbeat and proud" of serving in South Korea.

"I walked away with a better sense of why we do the things over there that we do," Lamb said.

Instead of being discouraged or worried by military and diplomatic tensions, Lamb said the South Koreans he spoke to are encouraged that "all sides are now talking" about nuclear arms. "It's a family issue for them," he said, referring to the two Koreas.

Lamb also said that the South Koreans are not discouraged at America's approach to North Korea under President Donald Trump, such as canceling American military exercises. "This is a very, very strong alliance. They trust us," he said of the U.S./South Korean relationship. "I think the mood is very optimistic and hopeful."

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©2018 the Beaver County Times (Beaver, Pa.)
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