Republic of Korea Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Hwang Ki-chul, left, prepares to present Adm. Harry Harris Jr. the prestigious Korean Tong-il national defense medal Nov. 3 in Seoul. (U.S. Navy/MC1 Frank L. Andrews)

SEOUL, Republic of Korea - Adm. Harry Harris Jr., the commander of the U.S. Pacific Fleet, was awarded the prestigious Korean Tong-il national defense medal Nov. 3 during a ceremony at the Republic of Korea Ministry of National Defense in Seoul.

Harris was awarded the medal by the Republic of Korea Chief of Naval Operations, Adm. Hwang Ki-chul, on behalf of South Korean President Park Geun-hye. The Tong-il is the highest in the order of Korean national security merit citations and is awarded to individuals who render distinguished service and meritorious contributions to the security of the Republic of Korea.

"Through six decades of armistice, our two nations have remained together, the closest of friends and the closest of allies," said Harris. "I am honored to accept this award today on behalf of all of our service members who have forged this great alliance over the years and continue to make it strong today."

The Tong-il award ceremony was part of a two-day visit to Korea, where Harris met with senior military and government leaders to reaffirm the U.S. Navy's commitment to the alliance with the Republic of Korea and the ongoing U.S. rebalance to the Pacific. Harris met with the Honorable Mark Lippert, U.S. Ambassador to the Republic of Korea; Gen. Curtis Scaparrotti, commander of U.S. Forces Korea; Adm. Choi Yoon-hee, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; General Park Seon-woo, deputy commander, Combined Forces Command; and Adm. Hwang Ki-chul, the chief of naval operations, where he received operational updates and discussed future initiatives to enhance the alliance.

"Maintaining stability, peace and prosperity is what the U.S. rebalance to the Pacific is all about," Harris said. "A key component to that policy is strengthening our regional alliances and partnerships. I am committed to deepening the maritime element of our defense relationships with all of our regional allies and partners."

Harris also thanked the people of the Republic of Korea for their support of U.S. Navy forces who are forward deployed on the Korean peninsula.

"Thanks to the wonderful support we get from the Korean people, the U.S. Pacific Fleet can remain forward-deployed," said Harris. "This allows the U.S. Navy to be where it matters, when it matters."

Commander, U.S. Naval Forces Korea is the regional commander for the U.S. Navy in the Republic of Korea and provides expertise on naval matters to area military commanders, including the Commander for the United Nations Command, the Combined Forces Command, and Commander, U.S. Forces Korea.

Adm. Harris meets with Republic of Korea Adm. Choi Yoon-hee, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, during an office call in Seoul Nov. 3. (U.S. Navy/MC1 Frank L. Andrews)