Retiring USFK commander reflects on 37 years in Army and five in Korea

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Retiring USFK commander reflects on 37 years in Army and five in Korea

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Gen. Walter Sharp, right, and his wife Joanne walk at their official residence, the Hilltop House, on the U.S. military’s Yongsan Garrison, Monday. By Kang Jung-hyun


Praising the Korean military’s remarkable progress of the over the past decades, Gen. Walter Sharp, the top U.S. military commander in Korea, expressed confidence in the ongoing reform of Korean forces and predicted that improved coordination among the three branches will be achieved in time for the transfer of wartime operational control to Korea in 2015.

Sharp, the commander of United States Forces Korea, met with the JoongAng Ilbo and the Korea JoongAng Daily - his first interview with a local newspaper - at his official residence, Hilltop House, at the U.S. military’s Yongsan Garrison, Monday. His wife Joanne joined the interview.

Wrapping up a 37-year military career, Sharp, who is also commander of the U.S.-Korea Combined Forces Command and the United Nations Command, is set to retire in July.

He first served in Korea from 1996 to 1998 and was appointed the top U.S. military commander of the USFK in 2008.

Following the sinking of the Cheonan warship in March 2010 and the shelling of Yeonpyeong Island last November, South Korea unveiled a defense reform plan in March to streamline its command structure and beef up the military’s fire power.

Titled Defense Reform Plan 307, the program will downsize the number of top commanders to boost military efficiency.

Sharp said the idea of the reform to pursue “jointness” among the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps is the exactly right thing to do.

“It is a difficult transition,” he said, adding that the U.S. military underwent a similar process in the 1990s.

“It took us a decade to do it, but it paid such huge dividends in fighting capabilities, and in the long run, it is cheaper because you don’t have to have any redundant systems. You can count on each other to do that,” he said. “I very much encourage the continued development of the defense reform plan and actually making it happen.”


Pursuit of ‘jointness’

Stressing the importance of the “jointness” of the military, Sharp said reform of the U.S. military was ordered by Congress in 1986. The U.S. military started benefitting from improved efficiencies during Operation Desert Storm in 1991, he said. By the time of the Iraq War, “We really learned how to be truly joined and work very closely together,” he said.

He said it was important for the National Assembly to understand the reform plan and properly fund it.

“And the biggest enabler to make us more ‘joint’ is a very strong command and control system,” he said, stressing the need to build an interoperable system to command across the entire military.

He said senior leaders’ determination to carry out reform is also critical to its success, warning against resistance toward restructuring.

Korea’s military became bulky and bureaucratic since it was last restructured in 1991 and Korea is seeking to complete the new reforms by 2030.

To cut away dead wood, roughly 60 generals and 1,000 executive positions will be eliminated in the next decade.

Sharp also said the planned U.S. handover of wartime operational control to Korea in 2015 is taking place at a significant time. He said the three-year postponement from 2012 was decided not because Korea wasn’t ready, but because many important events will be taking place in 2012.

The United States and Korea will have presidential elections next year, and China’s leadership will also be changed.

“We will like to take advantage of the extra time to make it even stronger,” Sharp said, adding that the U.S.-South Korea alliance will be even stronger and more efficient after the transition.

He also noted that the two attacks by North Korea last year, especially the attack on Yeonpyeong Island, changed Korea for the perceivable future.

While some doubted that the North was behind the sinking of Cheonan, despite proof presented by Seoul and Washington after an international investigation, there was no denying the Yeonpyeong Island shelling, he noted.

“People with smartphones watched live as North Korea’s artillery killed marines and civilians,” he said. “It made it very clear that North Korea is capable of attacking and willing to attack in order to get what it wants.”

He said the South Korean people realized after the two attacks that the North won’t give up the cycle of staging attacks and demanding aid.

“The big thing that changed was that the people said, ‘We’re not going to stand it anymore. North Korea must change before we give it anything,’” he said. Sharp urged North Korean leader Kim Jong-il to choose a path to “open up the country and treat the people humanely” and “give up nuclear capabilities.”


‘No regime change’

“We are not after a regime change,” Sharp said. “We are after a change in the way the regime acts.”

Sharp pointed out that the Yeonpyeong Island shelling also prompted a demand in the South for a stronger response.

“I know the plans, and they will be quick and strong to stop any attack that is coming,” he said. “The South Korean military has done a lot of work since November to prepare for any future attacks.”

The U.S. military is working closely with the South to come up with strong counter-provocation plans, he said, including agreements on what immediate responses should be and ways to prevent the situation from escalating, he said.

Sharp said U.S.-South Korea joint military exercises, particularly the most recent Key Resolve exercise, are designed to handle different types of North Korean attacks, such as conventional attacks like the Yeonpyeong Island shelling and attacks that are hard to pin on the North, as well as nuclear and missile tests.


Looking holistically

He said the U.S. military here had the opportunity to work closely with U.S. Ambassador to Korea Kathleen Stephens and her team, as well as the South Korean military, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade and the Blue House national security team.

“The real strength that the U.S. and Korea have is to look more holistically at the North Korean threats,” he said.

He also shared concerns about the North’s “asymmetrical threat,” which refers to small, isolated attacks against a Southern army armed and trained for general warfare.

“We are convinced that the North will be defeated if they try an all-out attack,” he said. “It would cause a lot of damage, but they will be defeated. That would mean the end of the North Korean military and I think Kim Jong-il sees that. So, we’ve got to make sure that we are prepared for asymmetrical attacks. That’s what we are doing for the great majority of our efforts right now.”

Sharp also supports President Lee Myung-bak’s global vision.

“For many years, Korea received aid from other countries, but now Korea is a donor country. It is giving back to the world,” he said, pointing to the Korean military’s peacekeeping missions in Lebanon and Haiti, the reconstruction team in Afghanistan and the anti-pirate operation off Somalia.

While the threat from North Korea remains the number one rationale for the U.S.-Korea alliance, such a global vision allows Korea to earn more support from the international community.

That sends an even stronger message to the North, he said.

On a more human note, Sharp said efforts to accommodate more families of American troops stationed here brought about an important change.

“When Joanne and I first got here in the summer of 2008, we had 1,800 families here in Korea. Today, we have a little over 4,200 families” he said. “When families come, service members stay two and three years rather than one. Many single soldiers are also volunteering to stay two or three years.”

Having soldiers for a longer period of time increases the capabilities of the military, he said.

“You don’t have to train new soldiers every year. You can imagine how much stronger our units are. It also shows to North Korea that the United States is committed, that we are not leaving,” he said. “We wouldn’t be building all this infrastructure, schools and all for our families, if we were leaving in 2015. That has a deterrent effect on the North.”


‘North’s soldiers coerced’

Recalling his time in Korea, Sharp said he has a strong belief in the capabilities of the South Korean military and the determination of its soldiers.

While most soldiers in the South have some college education and understand clearly their obligations to serve the country, the North’s troops are serving with guns pointed at their heads, he said.

He also said compared to his first tour of duty here in the 1990s, the Korean troops have progressed significantly in terms of professionalism and the ability to handle crises.

Expressing mixed emotions in wrapping up a 37-year career, Sharp said his post in Korea is the perfect place to retire.

“One of the things I am going to do is try to stay connected to the Korea-U.S. alliance to strengthen it in the future,” he said. “Whether it is a direct participation, talks, a think tank or speeches, I really want to do that.”


By Ser Myo-ja [myoja@joongang.co.kr]


한글 관련 기사 [중앙일보]

7월 전역하는 샤프 주한미군사령관 부부…용산 관저 ‘힐탑 하우스’ 언론 첫 공개

샤프 “혹한 속 DMZ 보초병 인상적” 조앤 “91세 백선엽은 애국자”

월터 샤프 주한미군사령관과의 인터뷰는 부인 조앤 샤프(Joanne Sharp)가 함께한 가운데 서울 용산의 사령관 관저 ‘힐탑 하우스’에서 이뤄졌다. 관저는 50여 년 전 지어진 단층 목조건물로 소박했다. 응접실 한쪽엔 1952년 샤프 사령관이 태어났을 때 한국전쟁에 참가 중이던 부친(작고)과 함께한 가족 사진, 이명박 대통령 및 버락 오바마 미 대통령과 함께 찍은 사진들이 진열돼 있었다. 1시간가량의 인터뷰 내내 11살짜리 애견인 엘리가 부부 옆에서 조용히 자리를 지켰다. 주한미군사령관이 관저를 언론에 공개한 것은 이번이 처음이라고 했다.

-하루 일정이 궁금하다.

“나의 하루 일과는 북한에 대한 정보보고를 받는 것으로 시작한다. 여러분이 상상할 수 있는 북한의 모든 움직임들을 주시하고 있다. 지난 수개월간 북한은 아주 조용했다(quiet). 그들은 지금 식량을 요구하고 있다. 아무런 약속도, 어떤 조치도 취하지 않은 채 도발 후에 보다 많은 식량을 얻으려는 과거의 사이클을 반복하고 있다. 북한의 추가 도발을 우려하는 이유다. 현재 북한의 모드는 대화와 식량지원 호소에 맞춰져 있다.”

-1996~98년 존 틸럴리 주한미군사령관의 인사참모에 이어 주한 미 2사단 부사단장으로 근무했다. 그때와 지난 3년간을 비교하면.

“당시 한국군과 긴밀히 일할 기회가 있었다. 그때도 한국군은 강했지만 10년 만에 만난 한국군의 프로페셔널리즘과 능력은 크게 달라졌다.”

샤프 사령관은 한국군의 전력을 이야기하다 상부지휘구조 개편을 핵심으로 한 한국의 국방개혁으로 화제를 옮겼다. 그는 “김관진 국방장관과 한민구 합참의장이 추진 중인 국방개혁은 합동성을 강화해 전투력을 증강하는 옳은 방향이라고 확신한다”며 “개혁이 실현되도록 적극 지지하고 협조하고 있다”고 말했다.

-미국의 경우는 어땠나.

“미국도 86년부터 국방개혁을 시작해 완성하는 데 10년이 걸렸고 힘도 들었다. 하지만 전투 역량에서 엄청난 배당금(dividends)을 받을 수 있었다. 불필요한 시스템은 모두 없앴다. 흥미로운 점은 미국의 군 개혁은 의회가 주도했다는 점이다. 합동성 강화를 위해 타군이나 합참에서 근무하지 않으면 장군이 될 수 없도록 법(골드워터-니컬스법)을 만들었다. (내가 참전한) 91년 1월 사막의 폭풍 작전(걸프전)에서 합동성과 효율성이 검증됐다.”

샤프 사령관은 “미국의 경험에 비춰 한국의 경우에도 국회가 국방개혁 실현에 역할을 할 수 있다는 것이 첫 번째 교훈”이라며 “각군 지도부도 예컨대 ‘공군이 돈을 많이 가져간다’는 식으로 생각하지 말고 하나의 합동전력(joint force)을 생각할 필요가 있다”고 말했다. 그는 “2015년 한국의 합참의장에게 전시작전권이 전환되는 시점 이전에 (을지 프리덤 가디언 훈련 등을 통해) 한국군의 새로운 상부지휘구조를 검증하고 다져나가도록 도울 것”이라고 말했다.

-2015년 전작권 전환 이후 한·미 동맹은 약화되지 않는가.

“전작권이 한국군으로 전환되면 한국군은 더욱 더 강해진다. 미국인이 아닌 한국인 지휘부가 갖는 강점을 살릴 수 있다. 한민구 합참의장은 나보다 한국 지형과 한국군의 역량을 수백 배 더 잘 안다. 이는 변함없이 유지되는 2만8500명의 주한미군과 더불어 한·미 동맹을 더 강하게 만드는 요소다. 현재 두 나라 간 국방·외교 팀워크는 환상적일 정도로 협조가 잘 이뤄지고 있다. 주한미군의 시설 등 복지가 개선되면서 가족 단위로 근무하는 군인이 2008년 1800명에서 현재 4200명으로 늘었다. 이들은 1년 만에 돌아가지 않고 2~3년간 한국에서 근무한다. 이것은 북한에 대한 강력한 억제수단이 될 것으로 확신한다.”

-한·미 동맹의 바람직한 비전은 무엇인가.

“한국은 ‘지원받은 나라’에서 ‘주는 나라’로 바뀌었다. 지금 한국군은 레바논과 아이티, 아프가니스탄, 소말리아 해역에서 전 세계의 평화·안정에 기여하고 있다. 첫 번째 위협인 대북 대비태세에 영향을 주지 않는 범위에서 국제사회를 도울 수 있는 역량이 충분히 있다고 본다. 한국의 활동을 보고 있는 수많은 나라가 만약의 경우 1950년(한국전쟁 때) 그랬듯 군대를 파견할 것이다. 연평도 포격 도발 이후 한국 군의 사격훈련 때 유엔사 대표들의 참관이 북한에 주는 메시지는 강력한 것이다.”

-한·일 군사협력 문제에 대한 견해는.

“협력이 잘되고 있고 앞으로도 더 발전될 것으로 본다. 일본은 한국의 방위에 매우 중요하다. 미군 후방사령부와 탄약고·연료기지가 있다. 한반도 전시에 미군은 일본을 거쳐 증강된다. 일본은 우리의 동맹을 강화할 수 있는 자산들을 갖고 있다. 일본 대지진 때 한국이 일본을 도운 것처럼 군사 부문의 협력에도 진전이 있었으면 좋겠다.”

샤프 사령관과 부인 조앤은 모두 5년간에 걸친 서울의 추억을 얘기했다. 조앤은 “막내아들이 지난해 여자친구를 데리고 서울에 와 남산에서 사랑 고백을 했다”며 “10년 전 초등학교를 다닐 때 ‘서울은 나에게 무슨 의미인가’를 묻는 글짓기 대회에서 수상한 기념품에 남산이 그려져 있었기 때문이라고 했다”고 전했다. 지난 크리스마스 때 세 자녀의 가족들이 모두 한국에 와서 멋진 추억을 만들었다고도 했다. 부인 조앤에게 물었다.

-만난 한국사람 중 가장 기억에 남는 사람은.

“걸어다니는 백과사전으로 불리는 백선엽 장군이다. 91세인데도 내가 태어나기 전의 일도 어제 일처럼 기억해 낸다. 정말 존경할 만한 분이고 노령에도 국가를 위해 몸을 아끼지 않고 헌신하는 경이로운(amazing) 애국자다.”

샤프 사령관은 “추위와 더위 속에 전방 비무장지대(DMZ) 초소에서 24시간 근무하는 초병과 한국의 지도자들”이라고 했다. 그는 “37년간의 군 생활을 한국에서 마치게 돼 영광이라며 “은퇴 후에도 싱크탱크 등에서 활동하며 한·미 동맹과 한국을 위한 강한 지지자가 될 것”이라고 말했다. 조앤은 “마음속에서 영원히 한국을 간직할 것”이라고 했다.

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