WASHINGTON, D.C. (Oct. 31, 2012) -- The U.S. Army's top operational commander in South Korea emphasized the importance of Eighth Army's role in providing security on the Korean Peninsula and stability in Northeast Asia during a panel here Oct. 23.
Eighth Army Commanding General Lt. Gen. John D. Johnson served on the Asia Pacific Engagement panel at the annual Association of the United States Army meeting in the nation's Capitol, together with several other senior military and civilian officials.
At the beginning of the panel, U.S. Army Pacific Commanding General Lt. Gen. Francis Wiercinski mentioned that 60 percent of the world's population resides in the Asia Pacific region.
In an area that covers 16 time zones and 9,000 miles, Wiercinski said the Army had to overcome the tyranny of distance from "Bollywood to Hollywood."
"This rebalance to the Pacific is not a military event," said Wiercinski. "This is a whole of government approach."
As a part of the U.S. Army's regional alignment plan, I Corps Commander Lt. Gen. Robert Brown said that the I Corps was the first corps to be regionally aligned with a combatant commander under U.S. Pacific Command.
"I Corps is back in the Pacific and we're thrilled with that," said Brown. "We are assigned and ready."
The Eighth Army commander said it was "historically significant time" in South Korea and he described the changing political landscape in the region from elections in Russia, Japan and South Korea to the leadership succession in North Korea and China.
Johnson also discussed the importance of the upcoming transition of wartime operational control to South Korea. Since the Korean War, the U.S. has maintained operational control over all South Korean and U.S. forces on the peninsula during wartime. Johnson said OPCON transition will not change the U.S. military's commitment to the ROK-U.S. Alliance and the defense of Korea.
"Our commitment to Korea and our commitment to the [operational] plans and contingency plans associated with Korea are unchanged," said Johnson.
Johnson said Eighth Army's transition to a Field Army headquarters has made it better able to defend freedom in South Korea and provide stability throughout Northeast Asia, which is home to four of the world's six largest militaries and 25 percent of total U.S. trade.
"It's a historic time for the Eighth Army as well," said Johnson. "We just completed transitioning the Army Service Component Command responsibilities that were in Korea to USARPAC [U.S. Army Pacific]. So that frees up the Eighth Army to have an operational role, a role that Eighth Army really hasn't had since the end of the Korean War.
"Now Eighth Army is responsible for standing up a combined joint task force that plays a significant role in the operations plans and [contingency] plans in Korea," said Johnson.
Focusing on mission readiness, Johnson said that Eighth Army was armed with the best equipment in the U.S. Army's arsenal, from the newest main battle tanks and newest armored infantry carriers to mine-resistant, ambushed-protected vehicles, or MRAPs, and the U.S. Army's best attack helicopters.
Johnson said that South Korea is home to the U.S. Army's newest fully digitized training range where American Soldiers and South Korean troops train together. The general added that Eighth Army has invested heavily in Live, Virtual, Constructive and Gaming technologies to train combined arms battalions to be able to fight and win.
"It's important that our Army be as ready as it can be to face the changing situation in North Korea, to be able to smoothly transition the alliance in the Republic of Korea and to be able to do the other things that our nation and our Army need us to do across the Pacific in concert with PACOM [Pacific Command] and U.S. Army Pacific," said Johnson.
Citing Eighth Army's participation in Balikatan in the Philippines, Cobra Gold in Thailand and Yama Sakura in Japan, Johnson said Eighth Army was also focused on building relationships that contribute to regional stability.
"As we rebalance toward the Pacific, we've got to get the best use of the resources we have there to reach out, make contact and build relationships in the theater," said Johnson. "Korea has been involved in that as well."
Describing the global nature of the ROK-U.S. Alliance's security efforts, Johnson said the alliance has served together around the world to protect its shared values.
"The Koreans were in Vietnam side-by-side with us," said Johnson. "When we went into Iraq, the Koreans went into Iraq side-by-side with us with a division. Today, the Koreans are in Haiti with humanitarian assistance teams, side-by-side with us. Today, the Koreans are in Afghanistan with reconstruction teams, side-by-side with us. Today, the Koreans are fighting pirates off the coast of Africa, side-by-side with us."
"They are exactly the kind of ally, of course, that we need in the world," said Johnson.