YONGSAN GARRISON, South Korea, July 14, 2011 -- United Nations Command, Combined Forces Command and U.S. Forces Korea held a change of command ceremony July 14.

Gen. James D. Thurman assumed command from Gen. Walter L. Sharp at the ceremony here at Collier Field House.

The ceremony was attended by South Korean Defense Minister Kim Kwan-jin, Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Adm. Mike Mullen, Pacific Command Commander Adm. Robert Williard and retired ROK Army Gen. Paik Sun-yup.

Mullen thanked Sharp for his leadership during a time of provocations and transformation on the Korean Peninsula. The U.S. joint chiefs chairman also called South Korea one of America’s “most essential and important allies.”

"We have nurtured a relationship forged in bitter combat into something much, much more: a living alliance between two thriving democracies," said Mullen.

During his three years in command, Sharp focused on maintaining readiness, strengthening the Republic of Korea-U.S. Alliance and improving quality of life for servicemembers, civilians and families in South Korea.

Following North Korea’s attack on the ROK Navy Ship Cheonan and unprovoked shelling on Yeonpyeong Island, Sharp called on North Korea to stop all provocations, change its belligerent rhetoric and seek the path to peace.

“I do hope for the day that North Korea will change its policies and become a responsible member of the international community,” Sharp said during the ceremony, “one that has rid itself of nuclear ambitions, stopped threats and attacks on the Republic of Korea and the world and has provided its people with the freedom and the rights that they deserve.”

“If that day would ever come, I am confident that this alliance would be ready to help the people of North Korea,” said Sharp. “But until that day comes, this great alliance will continue to adjust and grow even stronger, ready to face any threats.”

As a part of the biggest transformation in the history of the ROK-U.S. Alliance, Sharp championed efforts to consolidate U.S forces into two enduring hubs and to bring more families to Korea.

For his effort to build even stronger bonds between the United States and South Korea, Sharp was recently named an Honorary Citizen of Seoul.

Sharp is retiring later this year after 37 years in uniform. The son of a Korean War veteran, Sharp called his three years in the command “the absolute best three years yet.”

“There is no better way to end my military career than serving in Korea as the commander of the United Nations Command, Combined Forces Command and U.S. Forces Korea,” said Sharp.

Thurman takes command in South Korea following a tour as the commander of U.S. Army Forces Command, which consists of more than 750,000 active duty, Reserve and National Guard Soldiers.

A veteran combat commander who served in Iraq, Thurman said his priorities are to strengthen the ROK-U.S. Alliance, maintain combat readiness, transform the combined forces command structure and improve quality of life for those serving in South Korea.

Thurman said the combined defense team would stay ready to deter or defeat any threats against South Korea.

“This alliance stands ready to counter any provocation intended to destabilize the Korean Peninsula,” said Thurman. “With your help, I promise to do all I can to continue to strengthen this great alliance.”

“This alliance has a long and distinguished history. It has been tested on the battlefield and continues to be strengthened through rigorous training and the commitment of two strong allies,” said Thurman. “I am committing all of my energy to ensure that the alliance transforms as an enduring deterrence against aggression and, should deterrence fail, as a lethal war fighting force for victory.”