American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON – Visiting with U.S. troops stationed in South Korea near the demilitarized zone, President Barack Obama lauded their historic security role that assisted South Korea as it transformed itself into a democratic and prosperous nation in the years following the Korean War.
“When you think about the transformation that has taken place in South Korea during my lifetime, it is directly attributable to this long line of soldiers, sailors, airmen, marines [and] coast guardsmen who were willing to create the space and the opportunity for freedom and prosperity,” said Obama, who’s in South Korea to attend a Nuclear Security Summit in the capital city of Seoul.
At Camp Bonifas, located near the demilitarized zone that has divided North and South Korea since the Korean War armistice was signed in 1953, Obama told the troops they’re serving on “freedom’s frontier.” About 28,000 U.S. troops are stationed in South Korea today.
“And 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,” Obama said.
The president attributed South Korea's success to the “incredible” resilience, talents and hard work of their people.
“But it also has to do with you guys,” Obama told troops. “And so my main message is the same, obviously, to every base that I go to ... all around the world, which is, I could not be prouder of what you're doing. Everybody back home could not be prouder of what you guys do each and every day -- the dedication, the professionalism that you show.
“But there's something about this spot in particular,” he continued, “where there's such a clear line and there's such an obvious impact that you have for the good each and every day that should make all of you proud.”
The president shared an anecdote of a conversation he’d had with South Korean President Lee Myung-bak.
“Last time I was here, I was having lunch with the president of South Korea, President Lee,” Obama said. “And he talked about how he was a small child when the Korean War was taking place, and its aftermath, and the brutal poverty, the fact that they had nothing.
“And he went on to be an auto executive, and ultimately, the president of his country, and watch it grow,” Obama continued. “And he specifically said to me -- and this was a private moment; he didn't say this in front of the press, … he said, ‘The only reason that was able to happen -- and I still think back to all those American soldiers and the sacrifices that they made.’”
Obama expressed his pride in the job U.S. troops have done in South Korea and said he is grateful for the legacy they are carrying on.
“We're proud of you,” Obama told the U.S. service members, “and I hope that all your family back home knows how proud your commander-in-chief is of you.”