Gen. Paul LaCamera takes office as new U.S. Forces Korea chief

July 2, 2021

Gen. Paul LaCamera took office as the new commander of U.S. Forces Korea (USFK) on Friday amid daunting security challenges on the Korean Peninsula and beyond.

LaCamera, who most recently served as the U.S. Army Pacific commander, replaced Gen. Robert Abrams to lead the 28,500-strong American troops in South Korea, as well as the Korea-U.S. Combined Forces Command (CFC) and the United Nations Command.

The change-of-command ceremony took place at Camp Humphreys, where the USFK headquarters is located, in Pyeongtaek, 70 kilometers south of Seoul, attended by top officials from the two countries, including South Korean Defense Minister Suh Wook and U.S. Indo-Pacific Command chief Adm. John Aquilino.

“I am aware that the most sacred trust given to me is to prepare our soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines, guardians, civilians to fight and win on the most dangerous piece of ground,” LaCamera said. “Being ready to fight tonight means maintaining combat capability, creating time and space to enable the diplomatic process, thus preserving options for leaders.”

Calling the U.S.’ “greatest asymmetric advantage” allies and partners, the new commander vowed efforts to propel the Korea-U.S. alliance “to even greater heights” so as to mitigate threats to regional stability.

LaCamera has prior experience serving in South Korea. As a major, he was assigned to the 2nd Infantry Division of the U.S. Eighth Army and carried out operations near the inter-Korean border, according to officials.

Abrams said his 31-month service in South Korea since November 2018 has been “the profound honor of a lifetime,” during which the two nations reinvigorated their combined training program and put a “laser focus” on preparedness to fight tonight if called upon.

“Our presence in the Republic of Korea is as important as ever. And our adversaries, they know it too. That’s why we stand ready with our Korean allies to defend and protect the Republic of Korea,” Abrams said.

He will retire in the U.S. after his military career of 39 years, according to USFK.

U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin sent a video message and highlighted the bilateral alliance and the role of USFK for peace on the peninsula, in Northeast Asia and the Indo-Pacific region.

“Even throughout this pandemic, trainings still got done, the force stayed ready and our deterrent posture held firm (under Abrams’ leadership),” Austin said, thanking him and his family for their commitment and sacrifice.

Calling the new commander a “quiet warrior,” Austin also said that LaCamera is “the only one officer” who can “take what Abrams accomplished here and improve upon it.”

“As I told during my trip to Seoul in March, given the challenges posed by the regime in Pyongyang and by China, the U.S. and the ROK Alliance has never been more important,” Austin added.

Minister Suh congratulated LaCamera on his inauguration and voiced a firm belief in the two nations maintaining peace and security on the Korean Peninsula and continuing the history of the world’s strongest alliance under his leadership.

How to maintain a readiness posture against evolving nuclear and missile threats by North Korea will be the top priority for the new commander, at a time when the U.S. is trying to advance the stalled denuclearization talks with Pyongyang despite its flat refusal.

Seoul and Washington are planning to hold a major summertime exercise around next month, which is crucial for a readiness posture and for the envisioned transfer of wartime operational control (OPCON) of Korean troops from Washington to Seoul. But the North has long denounced the exercise as a rehearsal for invasion into the country.

Seoul seeks to achieve the transition at an early date, though no specific time frame has been set and there have been delays in due procedures for the transfer amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

President Moon Jae-in asked the new commander to pay close attention to such pending bilateral issues as the OPCON transition and the return of U.S. military base sites to Seoul, according to presidential spokesperson Park Kyung-mee on Thursday.