He is the first US military officer to be awarded the Tongil Medal of the Order, the highest national security merit, during the South's Armed Forces Day. Traditionally, the country's president bestowed the medal on USFK commanders when they finish their service here.
"I humbly accept the award on behalf of all the men and women I lead, and I view this medal as an expression of the president's support for the (South Korea) US alliance," Brooks said in a statement released after the 69th Armed Forces Day ceremony held at the headquarters of the Navy's Second Fleet in Pyeongtaek, Gyeonggi Province.
|South Korean President Moon Jae-in confers a top state medal on Gen. Vincent K. Brooks, commander of the US Forces Korea, during the Armed Forces Day event in Pyeongtaek, Gyeonggi Province, on Sept. 28, 2017. (Yonhap)|
The award for the commander reflects South Korea's respect for his duty as the leader of 28,500 American troops in the nation technically still at war with the North. The two Koreas put an end to their 1950-53 conflict in a truce, not a formal peace treaty.
Last year, he took over the command of the USFK, as well as the allies' Combined Forces Command and the United Nations Command.
His role and mission are crucial to South Korea's national security, especially as the communist North has ratcheted up its military threats, and quickened its nuclear and missile development.
Many South Korean defense officials recognize his leadership and strategic mind.
Meanwhile, Moon presented the US Naval Forces Korea the Presidential Unit Citation, which is the highest unit-level award given by the South Korean government.
It was awarded to Rear Adm. Brad Cooper, who commands the troops, officially named Commander, US Naval Forces Korea, and the other sailors of the unit for their "outstanding contribution" to the allies' joint defense posture.
Cooper described the honor as a result of close teamwork with the allies' naval forces "working shoulder-to-shoulder every day."
"Our relationship with the ROK Navy has always been strong, but that relationship is stronger now than it has ever been. We remain committed as ever to the defense of the Republic of Korea," he was quoted as saying by South Korean Navy officials.
They added CNFK is making constant efforts to develop the combined combat operation system with South Korea's Navy through regular consultations and information exchange.
CNFK is the US Navy's representative in South Korea. Its presence on the peninsula dates back to 1957, when it was created to support the mission of the UNC and advise the organization, training, administration and readiness of the South Korean naval forces.
In 2016, CNFK relocated its headquarters from the Yongsan Garrison in Seoul to the South's naval base in Busan, a southern port city. (Yonhap)