The vaunted U.S. government “pivot” to Asia is in fact a return to normal for the Army, with its long history in the region, said Lt. Gen. Francis J. Wiercinski, the commanding general of U.S. Army Pacific (USARPAC).
Although the nation and the military have been focused on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan over the past decade, “we never left” Asia, Wiercinski said. “It's not what we're getting, it's what we're getting back.” Wiercinski spoke at an Institute for Land Warfare panel, “Army and Asia – Pacific Engagement Rebalancing,” Tuesday, October 23 at the Association of the United States Army Annual Meeting and Esposition.
One shift that will enable the Army's work in Asia is the move in October 2011 to shift the Army service component command responsibility for Pacific Command from the 8th Army to USARPAC. That will allow the 8th Army to take an operational role, “a role the 8th Army really hasn't had since the beginning of the Korean War,” said Lt. Gen. John D. Johnson, commanding general of the 8th Army. “The PACOM commander now has his army in the Pacific,” added Wiercinski.
The 8th Army's role will also be affected by the upcoming transfer of OpCon, or wartime command of South Korean forces, from the U.S. to South Korea, which is scheduled for 2015. “The role of the US Army is largely unchanged, because our commitment to Korea, to the op plans and the contingency plans associated with Korea, are unchanged” Johnson said. Nevertheless, the transition gives the 8th Army an opportunity to “reshape” those plans. “And we're in the process of doing that right now, thereby reshaping the role that the Army will play in Korea, defending Korea.”
As part of the Army's move to regionally aligned forces, the 1 Corps will is the first corps assigned to a combatant commander, PACOM, said the corps's commanding general, Lt. Gen. Robert B. Brown. The corps is also working to become Joint Task Force certified, and should do so after an exercise next summer, Brown added. “That gives the combatant commander a lot of flexibility, to have a Joint Task Force-certified corps,” he said.
While many of the security challenges in the region involve keeping sea lanes open, land forces nevertheless will play a key role in that effort, said Brigadier General Barry McManus, the Australian defense attache to the U.S. The potential choke points in the sea lanes “are dominated by land terrain,” he said. “You cannot control the choke points, and you can not open the global commons, without control of the land terrain,” he said.
Australia's importance to the Army's mission in Asia has been highlighted by the fact that, for the first time, the deputy commanding general of USARPAC will be an Australian general. “This is an outstanding opportunity,” McManus said.