Gen. Vincent Brooks made the remarks amid the efforts by Seoul and Washington to facilitate dialogue with Pyongyang over the communist state's denuclearization through a set of de-escalatory steps, including the indefinite suspension of their combined military exercises.
"I am very proud to serve with (the South Korean army), and no doubt as an alliance commander about your ability to fight and win, but also your ability to maintain discipline and deter war," the commander said during his congratulatory remarks at an army forum.
"And this is a very important combination. I talked about it in a number of venues about how important it is to be able to do both ... to be able to fight on a moment's notice and to know how to not fight when there is a time for peace to have a chance," he added.His comments are in line with his earlier call to "put the sword in the sheath for right now, but never forget how to use it" -- a metaphor that he made to apparently note the need for military restraint at a time of beefed-up diplomacy on the North.
To facilitate denuclearization dialogue with Pyongyang, Seoul and Washington have decided to indefinitely suspend the Korea Marine Exercise Program and the annual combined Ulchi Freedom Guardian exercises, which were slated to kick off next month and in August, respectively.
During Thursday's speech, Brooks also touched on the "changing environment" on the peninsula, which he described as being fraught with both risks and opportunities.
The commander then put forward three ways to respond to the shifting landscape: miss, embrace or lead the change.
"The third, perhaps most important one I would encourage (the Korean army) to consider is lead the change," he said.
"In that case, you have to see beyond your present condition and present situation and determine where things are going and build a force that has the leaders who have the capability to be ready when the future arrives, having already structured it and seen that it is coming," he added.
The US maintains some 28,500 troops in the South as a deterrent against the North's potential aggression. (Yonhap)