By Dan Thompson (USAG-Yongsan)October 21, 2009
YONGSAN GARRISON, Republic of Korea - More than 100 Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, and Marines assigned to U.S. Army Garrison-Yongsan filled the Collier Field House this afternoon for a town hall-style meeting with Secretary of Defense Robert Gates.
Gates is currently crossing the globe for a series of high-profile meetings.
Eighth Army Commanding General Lt. Gen. Joseph Fil introduced Gates, who began delivering his remarks regarding the future of the U.S.-Republic of Korea alliance after a round of applause from Servicemembers in the audience.
"The Republic of Korea, of course, has deployed and fought alongside the U.S. military in a number of contingencies over the past 50 years - including Vietnam and Iraq. I see a different dynamic and logic to Korea's international military role today," he said, alluding to the changing nature of the U.S.-ROK alliance, where Korea is increasingly taking a leadership role.
"Going forward, Korea's international military contributions should be seen for what they are - something that is done to benefit your own security and vital national interests," he added.
In his closing remarks, Gates highlighted the strength and interdependence of the U.S.-ROK alliance by describing the battle of Tabu Dong in August 1950 in which Gen. Paik Sun-yup led an allied counterattack that prevented both South Korean forces and their allies from being separated and destroyed.
"The shared values, mutual trust, and bold leadership that Gen. Paik demonstrated and identified as the key to this friendship will continue to grow stronger," he said.
Following Gates' speech, seven Korean and American Soldiers were invited to ask the Secretary of Defense questions before the audience. Servicemembers asked about the possible effects of healthcare reform on TRICARE, instability in North Korea, and the increasingly complex relationship between the U.S. and China.
"I would like to know how my TRICARE would be affected by healthcare reform now being talked about in Washington," Master Sgt. John McMillian of Osan Air Base asked.
"It's a good question," Gates replied. "Our healthcare costs are staggering, and our hope is that healthcare reform will help the Department of Defense cut healthcare costs as well."
When a Korean Augmentation to the U.S. Army Soldier asked Gates about the threat of North Korea, he said "...their missile development and nuclear program are increasingly dangerous and destabilizing. And that is why it is important for South Korea and the U.S. and the international community to work towards a solution. When it comes to proliferation, it seems everything they make they seem to want to sell."
On the growing influence of China, Gates stressed that cooperation between the U.S. and China was in the long-term interests of the economic partners.
"I think that virtually all countries in the region, like Australia in the south, are interested in developing a stronger relationship with China. And it is obvious that China has been a huge world economic power, and many countries have interests in strengthening those relationships," he explained. "At the same time, there is clearly a broad range of military modernization programs going on in China. There is a feeling in American that there is a long-term interest in dialogue with China. As we develop these relationships, it's important to have this kind of dialogue to save any miscalculations."
He added that dialogue with China is vital to stability in the region.
"For our part, DOD -- all of services - will do what we can to develop a healthy relationship with China. Personally now, I believe, that concerning the activities of the Republic of Korea, is that they are also working to strengthen their ties to China"
After taking questions from the audience, Gates was visibly happy to greet each Servicemember in the audience and present them with a coin.
"It means a lot to me that they put a lot of thought into this event and that he is here telling us about the alliance in the first person," U.S. Marine Forces Korea Gunnery Sgt. Leonard Beaver said moments after meeting Gates.
"I'm impressed to hear how he feels about the situation in Korea, about potential threats, especially considering tour normalization and families living here," said USMFK Gunnery Sgt. Clint McNatt. "It's really good to know that he knows what is going on here and that he is on top of the situation. It makes me feel a lot better about it all."
The event marked the first of two town hall-style meetings scheduled on Yongsan Garrison this week. The second will take place Oct. 22 with more than 800 Servicemembers, spouses and civilians as they speak with the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Adm. Mike Mullen.
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