Brown shifts I Corps focus from Afghanistan to the Pacific Rim 

Lt. Gen. Robert Brown, commanding general, I Corps, explains to an assembly of more than 100 Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash., leaders, staff officers and civilians, the installation’s near-future mission shift from the Afghanistan conflict more toward Pacific Rim support during an open forum. (Photo Credit: Sgt. Christopher M. Gaylord)

Lt. Gen. Robert Brown, commanding general, I Corps and Joint Base Lewis-McChord (JBLM), met with more than 100 senior soldiers and civilians from I Corps, the 7th Infantry Division and brigades across the installation in early December to discuss a near-future shift in mission focus for the base and to hear their concerns.

"It’s always important to communicate to members of a team, and we have a chain of command to do that, but at JBLM we really have a team of teams, and there’s so many organizations and so many folks," Brown, said at the post’s Carey Theater.

Brown explained that I Corps has begun to shift its focus of prevent, shape and win to the Pacific Rim.

The 3rd Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division, whose soldiers recently returned from a year-long tour to Afghanistan, will not be going back, Brown said.

Instead, the brigade’s soldiers will offer their aid to training exercises and military-to-military engagements in countries like Singapore, Thailand, Indonesia and the Philippines.

None of JBLM’s three Stryker brigades, he said, are expected to deploy to Afghanistan again once they’ve returned.

Brown added that the Army has given much support to northeast Asia over the years – Japan and South Korea in particular – but hasn’t spent much time in the south and southeast areas, which will be of the greatest concern when refocusing attention to the Pacific.

The idea, he said, is to build a strong and enduring partnership while at the same time helping to build up the capabilities and credibility of the military forces in the area.

This will ensure I Corps continues to effectively and efficiently contribute to the stability and security in the Asia Pacific.

"Most of our focus has been on, if there’s a big fight, that we’re there to win, and we can’t lose that focus," he said.

Adding, "But we’ve done very little preventing and shaping to prevent that big fight and to shape so that other militaries can do more if there is a big fight."

He noted, "It doesn’t mean we’ll move in there permanently with them, but we’ll do more exercises with them and build better relationships with places like the Philippines, Thailand, Australia, Indonesia, Malaysia."

Brown said his intentions are to accept all offers to engage in exercises with the region and also stressed that, while at home, units will make every effort available to them to partner with communities local to JBLM.

After talking about the rebalance mission to the Pacific, Brown opened up the floor for questions and comments, giving leaders a chance to share their thoughts and concerns.

Brown also offered advice on topics such as substance abuse and sexual harassment among soldiers, the impending fiscal cliff the Army faces, possible downsizing of installations and the fair treatment of all soldiers and airmen in the military.

"Any time you get the [commanding general’s] input and you’ve got a forum of folks, and get his concept and visualization of how he sees things, it answers a lot of the questions that you’re wondering what our leadership is thinking about," Lt. Col. Kevin Keller, chief of air and missile defense, I Corps, said.

Adding, "It’s important to know where he stands on some of these issues, too. It provides us with a little understanding."

To a soldier who voiced fear over downsizing on the installation, Brown responded that he saw no indication JBLM would change much.

"There’s not an army in the world that’s growing," Brown reassured the soldier. "We can’t cry wolf; we’ll be all right."

One commander worried about sexual assault in the Army ranks and how he and other leaders could help prevent assaults, Brown said there was a definite need for proactive sponsorship programs for newly arriving soldiers to discuss this issue.

With this approach, he explained, a fellow soldier from the same team could steer his or her new comrade away from possible danger.

"We’ve got to work it hard as leaders," he said.

Adding, "There’s no place for [sexual assault]. We don’t treat teammates that way."

Another soldier expressed concern that the availability of resources for the base would begin to diminish as the Army tightens its spending.

"It takes the understanding that it’s not just, ‘spend away,’" he said, urging those in attendance to determine what they truly need most to complete their day-to-day missions and to spend wisely.

In some cases, the I Corps commander didn’t have a solution to a problem; however, he did provide his insight from past experiences.

"The questions are most valuable, because folks come out, and maybe they’ve had that question for quite a while, and so when they come out and ask it, it’s great to get a chance to explain it and give your perspective," Brown said.

"Sometimes people are hesitant if they think: ‘I’ll give input, but is it making any difference?’" he said.

Adding, "But I think when you see the leaders here, I don't think they have any question that if they give input it’ll be considered."

Brown told the group he plans to meet in a similar forum more often to discuss hot topics, issues and concerns, estimating they might reconvene every six months or more.

(Editor’s note: The story is based on an article by Sgt. Christopher M. Gaylord, 5th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment, Joint Base Lewis-McChord.)