YONGSAN GARRISON, Republic of Korea - Gen. Walter L. Sharp assumed command today of United Nations Command, Combined Forces Command and U.S. Forces Korea, saying the U.S.-Republic of Korea Alliance will stay "flexible and powerful enough" to deal with any potential threats in the region.

"The ROK-U.S. Alliance is one of the most enduring in the world and remains the cornerstone of peace and stability in Northeast Asia," General Sharp said in his remarks after assuming command. "I look forward to the next chapter of this Alliance as we continue to increase our capabilities and strengthen our partnership."

General Sharp succeeded Gen. B.B. Bell, who took command in February 2006. General Bell is retiring after 39 years of Army service.

U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates presented General Bell with the Defense Distinguished Service Medal for his tenure as commander. He also presented General Bell's wife, Katie, with the Joint Distinguished Public Service Award.

"As he leaves Korea, General Bell leaves a USFK that continues to be ready to fight and prevail in any contest in this peninsular in support of our South Korean ally," Secretary Gates said.

Secretary Gates also praised General Bell for advancing the transition of operational control of Korean forces to the ROK military by 2012 and by promoting positive interaction between U.S. Servicemembers and Korean citizens through the Good Neighbor Program.

"Katie and I have had the most marvelous experience working and living in this great nation ... and spending such memorable times with all the special people who became such as important part of our lives," General Bell said. "We will always remember our time here with smiles on our faces and warmth and affection in our hearts."

General Bell described the U.S.-ROK relationship as "an enduring ally, a trusted friend. The ROK is a dynamic country with one of the largest economies in the world. Its people are highly educated and proud of all they've achieved throughout their storied history. Korea has assumed its rightful place among the community of first world nations."

He also praised the efforts of both nations to their commitment to transferring operational control of ROK forces from the CFC to the future ROK Joint Forces Command in 2012.

General Sharp, coming to Korea from a tour as director of the Joint Staff at the Pentagon, said he will focus on maintaining readiness to deter aggression, strengthening the Alliance and continuing to improve quality of life for Servicemembers and families.

"This Alliance will continue to increase in capabilities - not only in the face of the North Korea threat but for regional and global peace and stability as well," General Sharp said.

"The United States and Republic of Korea will continue to develop and deploy the most modern weapon systems, continue to leverage rigorous training and exercise programs, and continue to adjust command relationships to take advantage of the tremendous leadership, organizational and weapons capabilities of the ROK and U.S. armed forces," he said.

Implementing longer, command-sponsored tours is another goal of the new commander, a program seeded by General Bell.

"Our goal is to rapidly reach the point when all U.S. Servicemembers can bring their families to Korea ..." General Sharp said. "The ROK is a great place to train and live. We will focus on safety, facilities and housing, schools and health care, jobs for spouses, a strong Good Neighbor program, and access to our families back in the U.S.

"Working together, we can make the Republic of Korea as the station of choice for U.S. Servicemembers and their families," General Sharp said.

Top Korean and U.S. defense officials who attended today's ceremony included ROK Defense Minister Lee Sang-hee, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Michael Mullen, and Pacific Command Commander Adm. Timothy Keating.

Weather conditions changed the location of the ceremony from an outdoor venue to an indoor event at Collier Field House, U.S. Army Garrison-Yongsan was ready for the change.

USAG-Yongsan was charged with the logistical aspects of setting up Collier Field House and handling security and traffic control.

"Whenever Knight Field is used for these special events, we automatically set up Collier as the inclement weather back-up," said Paul Robinson, director of U.S. Army Garrison-Yongsan Family, Morale, Welfare and Recreation.

The Friday before the ceremony, DFMWR employees laid out floor covering, set up hundreds of chairs and the stage. "We also were able to install air conditioners, which was a major improvement," Robinson said.

Because of the high level of distinguished visitors, the USAG-Yongsan Directorate of Emergency Services put comprehensive force protection plans in action. DES personnel conducted security for DVs, handling traffic control, motorcade escorts, and military working dog security sweeps.

"We probably had the biggest part preparing for the change of command because of the security required," said Ricky Oxendine, director of Emergency Services.

He thanked the Directorate of Public Works, Directorate of Logistics, DFMWR, and the Korean National Police for their force protection support and assistance. "Thanks to their dedication, it went off without a hitch," he said.

USAG-Yongsan Commander Col. Dave Hall praised USAG-Y employees and Soldiers for their roles in supporting the ceremony. "I'm very proud of our team," he said. "Thanks to their dedication and professionalism, we made a lot of friends. My thanks to the entire USAG-Yongsan workforce for their outstanding work."