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Army ramps up Pacific exercises, training

Dec. 12, 2012 - 07:15AM   |   Last Updated: Dec. 12, 2012 - 07:15AM  |  
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The Army is boosting exercises and engagements with its partners in the Pacific, which means more opportunities for as many as 15,000 soldiers to train in places such as South Korea, Japan, India, New Zealand and Australia. And that's just the beginning.

Under a sweeping campaign plan that's part of the Defense Department's renewed focus on the Asia-Pacific region and the Army's effort to regionally align its forces across the globe, the commander of U.S. Army Pacific is taking advantage of the combat-seasoned troops at his disposal.

"The [U.S. Pacific Command] commander now has his Army back and is now capable of utilizing it in the [operations] that we live day to day here in this theater of operations," said Lt. Gen. Francis Wiercinski, commanding general of U.S. Army Pacific, the Army Service Component Command to PACOM.

"Twelve or 13 years ago, we had an Army out here that the PACOM commander could reach into his quiver and utilize as he saw fit," Wiercinski said. "But we've been very, very busy. … For over 11 years, we have not been part [of PACOM operations]. Now we're back."

The focus on the Pacific is part of the national security strategy as the Army and the nation transition from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Officials at USARPAC estimate that 12,000 to 15,000 soldiers will be tapped to participate in a variety of training exercises and engagements in any given year.

The Army is so serious about its focus on the Pacific that even as it faces a shrinking budget, it is increasing the money allocated to USARPAC for its annual exercises and engagement.

"We're using that money to expand our engagements and our exercises," said Lt. Col. John Lee, a strategy and plans officer in the USARPAC G-5 (security cooperation and policy).

USARPAC typically spends about $22 million a year for its exercises and engagements, Lee said. About $14 million is allocated by the Army, while the remaining $8 million is taken from USARPAC, he said.

For fiscal years 2014 through 2018, the Army has increased USARPAC's funding, giving the command an extra $12 million a year, Lee said.

Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ray Odierno told an audience at a Washington think tank Nov. 1 that the Army must take a hard look at "future conflict, and what that means for ground forces" as the service moves into a future that likely holds less money, fewer troops, equipment modernization challenges and an unpredictable global threat picture.

This soul-searching comes as the Army seeks to align its forces with the geographic combatant commands.

The Army has a critical role to play in the Pacific, Wiercinski said.

The Army operates in the human domain, and the Pacific is home to about 60 percent of the world's population, Wiercinski said.

"There are a lot of people in this [area of responsibility] and 36 partner nations," he said. "Seven of the 10 largest armies in the world are here. We deal in that human domain on a day-to-day basis, and that's why engagements and exercises and communication are so vitally important to us maintaining peace, stability and security in the AOR."

The biggest threat

The main physical threat in the region lies in the Korean Peninsula, he said.

"We live every single day in an armistice, and every single day, we need to be prepared to fight tonight," he said.

Then there is a natural threat, Wiercinski said.

"Every single day, there is the threat of earthquake, tsunami, typhoon," he said. "We can guarantee there's going to be a humanitarian, disaster relief operation here. The challenges here are the tyranny of distance. This is a magnificently huge [area of operations]."

Under regional alignment, the Army's plan is to give units a regional alignment order as they enter their "reset" or first year of the Army Force Generation cycle, giving them time to learn the region's geography and culture, and conversational language skills.

By the time the units enter the "available" or final year of the ARFORGEN cycle, combatant commanders will have access to troops they can call on for exercises and engagements.

The first unit to be aligned is 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division, which will be aligned with U.S. Africa Command in fiscal 2013.

Other units have not officially been aligned as the Army seeks lessons learned from 2nd BCT and works out a variety of details and issues.

However, so far, plans call for I Corps, of Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash., to be aligned with PACOM; III Corps, of Fort Hood, Texas, to be aligned with U.S. Central Command; and the XVIII Airborne Corps, of Fort Bragg, N.C., to serve as the global response force.

Combatant commands without a corps aligned to them will have divisions aligned to them, as well as units from across the active Army, Army Reserve and Army National Guard.

At least three more BCTs are expected to be regionally aligned in fiscal 2014, with the rest of the force to follow in fiscal 2015.

Having active Army troops available for missions across the Pacific is "not about how much more we're getting, it's what we're getting back for the PACOM commander," Wiercinski said.

This includes I Corps, two division headquarters — the 25th Infantry Division in Hawaii and the 2nd Infantry Division in Korea — and two Army headquarters, one each in Japan and Alaska, he said.

USARPAC also has nine BCTs, two combat aviation brigades, 11 multifunctional brigades and a number of theater-enabling commands that no other service has, Wiercinski said. This includes the 8th Theater Sustainment Command, which provides logistics support to the massive Asia-Pacific region, and the 311th Signal Command, which provides communication capabilities that all of the services rely on, he said.

As for Afghanistan, the Army will still call on USARPAC units, if needed, for deployments, Wiercinski said. As of right now, I Corps and the 25th Infantry Division are not scheduled to deploy, and they have been designated to PACOM, Wiercinski said.

"We will still be required to provide forces as directed by the Department of the Army, but it certainly won't be as much as in the past because we're drawing down," he said. "But when we are required to support, there will be another BCT or like-type unit regionally aligned so the PACOM commander knows he always has the same number of forces available to him."

Right force, right time

In the future, Wiercinski said he anticipates more forces — outside of those stationed in Hawaii, South Korea, Japan, Alaska and Washington state — will be aligned with PACOM.

"There will be more forces regionally aligned, predominantly to PACOM and CENTCOM. We could see more BCTs or multifunctional brigades aligned to PACOM, but that's years in the future here," he said.

The 25th Infantry Division is already "fully focused" on theater engagement, and the command already has plans for I Corps, Wiercinski said.

"We have a theater engagement plan, and it's nested with PACOM's plan of the countries we're engaging with, exercising with," he said.

In the past, USARPAC had to simulate a corps headquarters during exercises. Now, with the availability of I Corps, it won't have to.

The 25th Infantry Division's 2nd SBCT participated in Orient Shield, an exercise in Japan. I Corps will participate in Yama Sakura, scheduled for December in Japan, and Talisman Sabre, which will take place in July in Australia.

"The signal that we send to the PACOM commander is he has the right force, the right headquarters associated with the proper mission set," Wiercinski said. "The things we bring most to this are tailorable and scalable force packages. It doesn't have to be the whole corps. It doesn't have to be a full division. We can send the right force at the right time at the right size at the right place."

More exercises

The addition of these active-duty troops has allowed USARPAC to increase the number of exercises it conducts with its partners, said Col. Matthew Kelley, the exercise division chief in the USARPAC G-3 (operations).

"We have these active-duty units now available for exercises that we haven't really had for the past 10 years," he said. "It's a huge signal to our partners in the Pacific. We're showing our commitment to the Pacific AOR by having these forces fenced off from deployment so their focus is the Pacific."

The command has added four major exercises in the past year, two with Australia and two with New Zealand, he said.

"It's been a fast and furious year as the units have returned, and they're looking for training opportunities," Kelley said.

USARPAC plans to continue growing its engagements with its partners, Wiercinski said, and increase their scope and complexity.

"We're restarting a lot of programs that have atrophied in the last 11 years," he said. "Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines. We're starting to work with New Zealand. We're restarting a very vibrant program with India."

"It just provides us so much more opportunity to engage with more countries, to continue our Phase Zero operations, to continue our understanding of each other's tactics, techniques and procedures," he said.

Phase Zero operations refer to shaping activities designed to promote stability and prevent conflict, such as military-to-military engagements.

USARPAC also is seeking new engagements with other countries in the Pacific, Lee said. One example is Bangladesh, where the Army is seeking to partner with them to conduct a company- to battalion-sized field exercise. This would be in addition to the two armies' existing humanitarian aid and disaster relief exercises, he said.

Vietnam is another example.

"This past June, we conducted our first land force talks with Vietnam," Lee said. "Our deputy commanding general went there to establish a senior leader dialogue and forum, where we charted out a five-year plan of the types of engagements we'd like to do with Vietnam."

The talks will continue, Lee said, with the next one scheduled for April.

The Army also is reaching out to Nepal, Lee said. Every year, the Army conducts a Pacific Resilience Disaster Response Exercise and Exchange with Nepal, focusing on the earthquake threat there.

"We're trying to help them develop a response capability within the Nepalese army," he said.

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