FORT SHAFTER, Hawaii —
Natural disasters amplified by climate change, urbanization and the sheer vastness of the Asia-Pacific region are among many factors that have prompted leadership there to dub the area “the Ring of Fire,” the deputy commander of U.S. Army Pacific said in a recent interview here.
Maj. Gen. James F. Pasquarette said about 100,000 soldiers are assigned to USARPAC and under its operational control, with 80,000 of them stationed east of the International Dateline in Hawaii, Alaska and the U.S. West Coast, and about 20,000 stationed in South Korea and Japan.
“We are risk-averse -- we have to be there based on the North Korean threat, which is unpredictable,” the general said. “We have to be ready to ‘fight tonight,’ so we are there … with 8th Army, 2nd Infantry Division, 19th Expeditionary Command, other soldiers, and also the Japan footprint, which is key to that operation.
When Army Gen. Vincent K. Brooks arrived as USARPAC commander two years ago, he moved part of the staff to South Korea to better support 8th Army and U.S. Forces Korea, Pasquarette said. “Today we have about 25 to 30 staff officers and [noncommissioned officers] residing in Korea,” he added.
Ready to ‘Fight Tonight’
Pasquarette called the forward staff extension on the Korean Peninsula a prime example of USARPAC’s commitment to being ready to “fight tonight” and a bolstering of the command’s posture to support potential issues in North Korea.
Crisis response calls for trained and ready forces to respond to events in the area of responsibility, the largest area of all U.S. combatant commands, the general said. “We have the best-trained Army forces and soldiers in the U.S. Army,” he added.
He credited the Department of the Army for the compelling statistics and proven track record of soldiers in the Asia-Pacific region..
Improving Regional Training Centers
Other crisis response readiness objectives include USARPAC’s plans to improve regional training centers, particularly at Yakima Training Area, Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Washington; Joint Pacific Alaska Range Complex; Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Alaska; Puhakuloa Training Area, Hawaii; and Rodriguez Range, South Korea.
“We want to develop those training areas over time and then better integrate them to conduct distributed operations at the joint and combined level,” Pasquarette said.
USARPAC, he said, is also developing a Joint Pacific Multinational Readiness Capability, a deployable set that allows instrumentation and feedback for a training audience.
Pasquarette noted investments in JPMRC will continue toward full operational capability in coming years. “We want to do combined operations with other armies in their country, where they see a top-end training environment [with] feedback, observer controllers and … after-action reports we believe assist in crisis response.”
Advancing Common Interests
Advancing common interests with regional allies and partners is a critical part of what USARPAC is expected to accomplish, the general said. “We have a competitive advantage to any other army in the world right now,” Pasquarette said. “When we walk in the door to another nation, they want to train with us, [and] they want to be partnered with us.”
While financial, resource and policy restrictions apply to most aspects of government and the military, a thirst for more engagement with U.S. Army remains evident in just about every region of South and Southeast Asia he has visited, Pasquarette said.
“It’s not in competition with China -- we support what China is doing in most instances in these countries at the same time, and we’re not looking for zero balance where it’s us or China,” the general said. “Both countries have interests in most of the areas we go, and those countries want to work with us based on the professionalism of the U.S. Army.”
Location, the general noted, also creates an advantage among the joint team.
“Nowhere else do you have all the components collocated with a combatant command within a 10-minute drive of each other,” Pasquarette said. “There’s power in that -- our ability to meet face-to-face and not through [video teleconferences] and emails has resulted in a great joint team. We’re proud to be a part of it.”
Improvement Possible in U.S.-China Relationship
While law and policy guidance ultimately dictate actions between the U.S. Army and the Chinese army, Pasquarette said, he believes improvement is still possible in the relationship, particularly in other domains such as the sea. “When tensions rise in those other domains,” he added, “we can hopefully continue to talk to each other and prevent a miscalculation if something would start to spin up.”
China’s rapid economic growth and clout have affected East Asia’s changing financial landscape, but he remains optimistic about improving the relationship with that nation and with five mutual-defense treaty nations -- Australia, New Zealand, Japan, South Korea, and the Philippines -- in a new chapter of U.S. partnerships and diplomacy.
“We value the treaties with those five countries,” he said. “We resource them accordingly, have deep relationships with them, we exercise more in those countries than the other partners, and we’ll continue to try and enrich those relationships in the future.”
Few regions are as culturally, socially, economically and geopolitically diverse as the Asia-Pacific, Pasquarette said. The 36 nations that make up the Asia-Pacific region are home to more than 50 percent of the world's population and 3,000 different languages, he noted. The region contains two of the world’s three largest economies, as well as 10 of the 14 smallest, he added.
The U.S. relationship with India continues to improve, Pasquarette said, citing “a natural magnetic attraction between the world’s two largest democracies.”
In recent talks, President Barack Obama and India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi renewed the defense relationship between their nations, which shows promise, Pasquarette explained. “[India is] a proud … emerging regional power in [its] own right, and it wants to be treated as an equal, so we’re working through that relationship, and we value it here.”