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[Herald 70th] Constant training is priority for ‘peace through strength’: 8th US Army commander

May 25, 2023 - 15:25 By Ji Da-gyum
Lt. Gen. Willard Burleson, the commanding general of the Eighth US Army, speaks during a forum hosted by Herald Corp. and held at the Shilla Hotel on Wednesday. The forum, titled “The ROK-US Alliance Plus,” aims to commemorate seven decades of the South Korea-US alliance and the 70th anniversary of The Korea Herald’s foundation. (Lee Sang-sub/The Korea Herald)

To achieve “peace through strength” on the Korean Peninsula and beyond, South Korean and US forces should prioritize conducting constant and realistic training and exercises unencumbered by constraints, the commanding general of the Eighth US Army said Wednesday.

“Our forces, both Korean and the United States, must go into the field and train,” Lt. Gen. Willard Burleson said during a forum hosted by Herald Corp. in Seoul to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the alliance and the founding of The Korea Herald and Herald Business.

“But training is perishable, so the need to train constantly is constant," he said.

Burleson stressed the significance of combat readiness, highlighting that an unprepared force will never deter aggression and will inevitably result in unnecessary losses in the early stages of combat.

“Training provides deterrence. Deterrence provides peace and all who live under peace have the opportunity to prosper,” he said. “This is what we call peace through strength.”

The military general noted that it is first and foremost important for the allies to conduct “realistic training” and exercise their joint, combined and multi-domain capabilities.

Burleson also stressed the importance of securing training opportunities alongside financial commitments from governments to uphold well-trained and combat-ready forces. He explained that even with top-notch equipment, its effectiveness diminishes if “forces are unduly constrained on where and how they can train.”

The operation of Korean and US training facilities, therefore, assumes a vital role in maintaining the readiness of the combined forces.

The significance of preserving peace on the Korean Peninsula has increased not only due to North Korea’s continuous pursuit of missile development and nuclear buildup. Burleson emphasized that peace on the peninsula serves as a fundamental basis for security throughout Northeast Asia, which he labeled as a “decisive terrain within the Indo-Pacific and the world.”

“It (Northeast Asia) is a key focal point among allies, but also with our adversaries, who look to gain strategic competitive advantages,” he said.

“A well-trained military is the greatest deterrence to those that seek to undermine peace, security and prosperity for a free people.”

Burleson said the treaty allies should draw lessons from the past and avoid repeating the same mistakes, citing the US dispatch of the ill-prepared Task Force Smith of the Army to the peninsula at the beginning of the 1950-53 Korean War as one example.

The sudden invasion by North Korea starkly revealed their disadvantaged position resulting from a lack of preparedness at the onset of the war. The resounding mantra of “No more Task Force Smiths” has reverberated throughout the US Army.

“I have seen the cost of war firsthand in both blood and treasure, and the price is high when diplomacy fails,” he said.

Burleson also emphasized the need for the allies to clearly communicate that their efforts to enhance military training, and that exercises should not be misconstrued as “acts of aggression.”

“No war should ever start from misunderstandings between militaries,” he said.