FORT SHAFTER - The U.S. Army is back in the Pacific region after more than a decade of deploying soldiers to Afghanistan and Iraq, the outgoing top Army commander in the region says.
The four brigades of the 25th Infantry Division, which are based in Alaska and Hawaii, aren't scheduled to return to the Middle East, Lt. Gen. Francis Wiercinski said this week. The I Corps, a command based in Washington state that includes three Stryker brigades, is refocusing on the Pacific.
"For the last 11 to 12 years, the (Pacific Command) commander has not had his Army arrow in his quiver. We've been rotating into the Middle East. You've either been prepping for that or you've been there or you've been recovering. And the PACOM commander didn't have an Army. He has an Army now," Wiercinski said in an interview Thursday at his Fort Shafter headquarters.
Lt. Gen. Francis Wiercinski, commander of U.S. Army Pacific, poses for a portrait at Fort Shafter on Thursday.
Wiercinski spoke about a month before he's due to hand over command of U.S. Army Pacific to Lt. Gen. Vincent Brooks on July 2.
The return of soldiers to the region comes as the Obama administration rebalances its forces to the Pacific in recognition of China's growing military power and the importance of the region to U.S. national security.
The availability of the soldiers has allowed the Army to match units with similarly skilled counterparts in other countries, Wiercinski said.
For example, northern warfare expert soldiers based in Alaska, trained in cold mountainous terrain, have been matched up with Everest climbers in Nepal's military.
"They have something to talk about. They have something to train about. There's a camaraderie already built in," Wiercinski said.
Alaska-based soldiers have also been aligned with partners in Mongolia, northern India, northern Japan and southern New Zealand.
The "jungle fighters" of the 25th Infantry Division based in Hawaii have been matched up with counterparts in Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia, Australia and the Philippines.