Hail and Farewell: Eighth Army Change of Command Ceremony

I was honored to attend the Eighth Army Change of Command ceremony recently at which Lieutenant General Thomas Vandal assumed command from Lieutenant General Bernard Champoux.  Events such as a change of command remind us of our deep military ties with the Republic of Korea, and there I was deeply humbled to meet a living icon of South Korean military history, General Paik Sun-Yup. 

Shaking hands with General Paik

I have heard General Paik, who just turned 95, speak impressively about his service during the Korean War and how General Douglas McArthur’s arrival and U.S. support helped turn the tide of battle for the ROK.  General Paik, as "Honorary Eighth Army Commander," is still considered to be on active duty. This distinction allows him to wear the Eighth Army combat patch from the Korean War.  A combat patch is something that all soldiers assigned to a unit wear on their left shoulder.  If a soldier is assigned to a unit while that unit is on combat status, then he is authorized to wear that patch permanently on his right shoulder as a symbol of his service to the ROK. 

 Outgoing LTG Champoux passes the Eighth Army colors to USFK Commander GEN Scaparrotti during the Eighth Army change of command ceremony
(U.S. Army photo)

At the change of command ceremony, General Scaparrotti formally bid farewell to LTG Champoux, who will be missed.  He and his wife Mary Sue are good friends of ours, and Robyn and I look forward to seeing them soon in the United States.  LTG Champoux has done multiple tours in the ROK and has enthusiastically embraced Korean culture.  He even celebrated his 60th birthday, or hwangap, with many of his Korean friends.  I wish LTG Champoux the best as he moves on to the next chapter of his storied career!

Celebrating LTG Champoux’s hwangap (60th birthday) in December 2014

We welcome LTG Vandal as the new commander!  LTG Vandal is a West Point grad who has already amassed a wealth of ROK experience, both as the USFK director of combined and joint operations and as the commander of the 2nd Infantry Division.  It was great to see his family at the ceremony, including his brother and sister, and two of his three sons, all of whom are active duty military.  One is a pilot in the Marines, one is in the field artillery division in the Army, and the third is a lieutenant junior grade who was not able to attend the ceremony since he is currently deployed on a Navy ship. 

Incoming LTG Vandal receives the Eighth Army colors from USFK Commander General Scaparrotti during the Eighth Army Change of Command ceremony
(U.S. Army photo)

LTG Vandal greets his relatives at the Change of Command reception lunch 
(U.S. Army Photo)

The Eighth Army is the only forward-deployed army of its size.  Their amphibious landings during the Korean War were instrumental in repelling North Korean and Chinese forces.  The Eighth Army has remained in Korea since this time to ensure lasting peace on the Korean Peninsula, marking an important part of the U.S.-ROK Alliance and of our shared history.  The security aspect of the relationship is vital to the peace and stability of the Northeast Asian region, now more than ever.  On that note, I want to thank those who serve, both American and Korean soldiers, and who remain ready to “fight tonight.” 

For this reason, I am preparing to go to Busan soon to attend the opening of the new U.S. Naval Forces Korea headquarters.  I look forward to seeing Commander of Naval Forces Korea, Rear Admiral Bill Byrne, and Commander of the ROK Fleet, Vice Admiral Lee Ki-sik.  Their dedication, and the dedication of men and women in the service of our two countries, is vital to the continued support of freedom and democracy on the Peninsula.  The new U.S. Naval Forces Korea headquarters are an exciting example of our shared values as we join paths and go forward together.  Kachi kapshida!

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