The president of the Republic of Korea presented the nation's highest military security award to Gen. James D. Thurman, commander of the United Nations Command, Combined Forces Command and U.S. Forces Korea, during an award ceremony Thursday at the presidential palace, known as the "Blue House."

South Korean President Park Geun-Hye presented the Order of National Security Merit Tongil Medal to the Marietta native in a ceremony attended by South Korean Defense Minister Kim Kwan-Jin and other top U.S. and ROK military leaders.

"I am deeply honored and humbled to serve in the Republic of Korea with the great ROK-U.S. combined joint team," Thurman said. "The mutual trust, common values and commitment to security and prosperity are evident in the vitality and stability of this great nation."

Park cited some of the accomplishments of Thurman's time in Korea, including tense moments after North Korea's third nuclear test and various missile launches and provocations.

"As you all know very well, Commander Thurman's time in office was a very difficult period in inter-Korean relations and in the surrounding region," Park said. "I think we were all very lucky to have Commander Thurman at such a serious time."

Thurman has served as the commander of UNC/CFC/USFK since July 2011. The seasoned Army aviator and leader will relinquish command of UNC/CFC/USFK during a change of command ceremony Wednesday, co-hosted by the U.S. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, and the Republic of Korea Defense Minister Kim Kwan-Jin.

Thurman, who obtained a Bachelor of Arts degree in history from East Central University, earned his commission through ROTC at ECU in 1975. He also obtained a Master of Arts in management from Webster University, and attended numerous military schools, and is a graduate of the Command and General Staff College and the Army War College.

Multi-decorated, Thurman is a Senior Aviator and has earned the Combat Action Badge, the Parachutist Badge, the Army Staff Identification Badge and the Joint Chiefs of Staff Identification Badge.

He has been married to the former Delia Lee Hilton for 39 years. They have two daughters and four grandchildren.