President visits Soldiers on Demilitarized Zone
March 27, 2012
CAMP BONIFAS, Republic of Korea (Army News Service, March 27, 2012) -- Soldiers who guard the border here between South and North Korea were surprised, Sunday, to get a visit from their commander in chief.
"I was actually shocked," said Pfc. Andrew Wilson, of the security battalion. "I mean, he's a busy man."
The president spent nearly a half hour meeting with the troops at Camp Bonifas, including Wilson. The president visited the camp and the Demilitarized Zone between the Republic of Korea and North Korea. The visit was the first stop on a three-day trip for the Nuclear Security Summit in Seoul.
Obama started his visit by meeting with military personnel from the United Nations Command Security Battalion and United Nations Military Armistice Commission at Bonifas, which sits just outside the Demilitarized Zone.
"You guys are at freedom's frontier," Obama told the nearly five-dozen military members packed into the camp's small dining facility. "The contrast between South Korea and North Korea could not be clearer, could not be starker, both in terms of freedom but also in terms of prosperity."
The president told Soldiers that it was Soldiers who made the prosperity possible.
"The transformation that has taken place in South Korea during my lifetime alone is directly attributed to a long line of Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, Marines and Coast Guardsmen," said the president, about the hundreds of thousands of U.S. military personnel who have served on the peninsula since the onset of the Korean War.
About 28,500 U.S. military personnel are now serving on the peninsula. Those working for the security battalion and military armistice commission are physically closest to North Korea.
"I'm proud of all of you," the president said, before moving to shake hands and talk with the gathered service members.
Sgt. Timothy Jenkins presented Obama with the battalion coin at the end of his visit.
"It's not every day you get to meet the president, especially when he came up here just to see us," Jenkins said.
Obama left Bonifas for Observation Post Ouellette, which sits 25 meters from the military demarcation line separating the two nations.
After meeting with eight of the security battalion's Republic of Korea soldiers, the president was briefed by battalion commander Lt. Col. Edward Taylor and his deputy, Republic of Korea Lt. Col. Yoon Bong Hee.
The battalion is a combination of both U.S. and ROK Soldiers.
Working together allows them "to understand each other's opinions and abilities," Yoon told Obama. "As a result, we can proudly say that [the battalion] is the most solid combined combat battalion in the world."
Three other U.S. presidents have visited the Demilitarized Zone, including President George W. Bush in 2002, President Bill Clinton in 1993 and President Ronald Reagan in 1983.
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates visited the DMZ in July 2010, including stopping at the observation post and the nearby Joint Security Area at Panmunjom.