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NEWS | July 14, 2023

Republic of Korea Air Force and U.S. Special Operations Leaders Reflect on Decades-long Alliance

By Maj. Christopher Mesnard, Special Operations Command Korea

Demonstrating the decades-long alliance between the Republic of Korea (ROK) and U.S., Republic of Korea Air Force (ROKAF) Gen. Sang-hwa Jung, Chief of Staff of the Air Force welcomed U.S. Air Force Lt. Gen. Tony Bauernfeind, Air Force Special Operations Command commander back to the Korean Peninsula July 13, 2023. Bauernfeind, who previously served as the commanding general of Special Operations Command Korea (SOCKOR) from April 2016 – June 2019, made the visit as part of a multi-day theater circulation in the Indo-Pacific region.

During their meeting, Bauernfeind and Jung discussed the unique capabilities of each nation’s Air and Space Forces, with special emphasis on the role and integration of Special Operations Forces as a key advantage in times of competition and conflict.

“In the Special Operations community we know our people are our competitive advantage, underpinned by the enduring relationships we have around the world,” said Bauernfeind. “It is an absolute pleasure and honor to have served here in Korea and to be back again to see that the resolute friendship of the ROK-U.S. Alliance is more vibrant than ever.”

Jung and Bauernfeind discussed topics ranging from special operations capabilities unique to each nation’s air forces, joint and combined integration in the region and globally, and the continued strengthening of the 70-year ROK-U.S. Alliance.

In addition to meeting with the ROKAF top general officer, Bauernfeind also visited with the ROKAF Air Force Operations Command commander Lt. Gen. Ha Sik Park and the current SOCKOR commander, Brig. Gen. Derek Lipson.

“For 50 years the U.S. Special Operations Command Korea has partnered with our ROK Allies, a relationship we continue today and into the future,” said Lipson. “We take great pride in working with our ROK counterparts to enable their priorities here on the Peninsula, in the region, and globally.”

A common theme throughout the visit was a need to develop people capable of adapting to evolving technology, threats, and opportunities.

“Our adversaries will not fight or compete in a way we consider regular or fair—it’s not advantageous for them to do so,” said Lipson. “We expect adversaries who adapt, innovate, remain flexible, and challenge us in non-traditional ways. This means we must maintain the proficiency to carry out our missions to create advantage and opportunity below the scale of armed conflict.”

Recently AFSOC Air Commandos supported a forward area refueling point demonstration with ROKAF personnel in attendance to observe the capability that enables agile combat employment across a variety of austere and contested environments.

“The value of landing one of our MC-130Js or other aircraft on unimproved and improvised airstrips cannot be overstated,” said Bauernfeind. “When you have the ability to refuel and rearm air assets virtually anywhere there’s enough space to land, you complicate an adversary’s ability to decide where and what to strike past the point of effective decision making. With our Allies, creating these kinds of options for leaders is the SOF value proposition.”

This year marks the 70th anniversary of the ROK-U.S. Alliance and 50th anniversary since the establishment of SOCKOR.

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