FORT SHAFTER - A four-star general took command of the Army in Asia and the Pacific for the first time in nearly four decades Tuesday as the military's national security focus shifts to the region.
Gen. Vincent Brooks, 55, succeeded Lt. Gen. Francis Wiercinski, a three-star general who retired after leading U.S. Army Pacific for the past two years.
Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ray Odierno told the crowd that the assignment of a four-star commander - the Army's highest rank - to the post reflects the growing importance the U.S. and the Army places on the region.
Gen. Vincent Brooks speaks to reporters Tuesday at Fort Shafter
U.S. national security and military strategy calls for rebalancing toward Asia and the Pacific in recognition of how critical relationships and events in the region will help the nation grow economically and establish security, Odierno said.
"With the unpredictability on the Korean peninsula a constant and with the growing importance of strengthening of our diplomatic and economic relationship with China, our military and specifically our Army must continue to take important steps in supporting this strategy," Odierno said during a ceremony at an Army post just outside Honolulu.
A four-star general last commanded U.S. Army Pacific in 1974.
Returning a four-star general to the post puts the Army on par with the Navy and Air Force, which have long had four-star commanders in the Pacific. It's also expected to make it easier for the U.S. to develop relationships with top army commanders throughout the region, as Brooks will be on an equal level with them in rank.
"It may open a few more doors, where peer-to-peer relationship is eased somewhat," Brooks told reporters after the ceremony. "Rank is important. It matters in protocols around the world, and we think that will help to open the door."
Brooks said he would look to hold additional exercises and seek opportunities for soldiers to share their professionalism with their counterparts in the region as he carries out the rebalancing policy. He plans to also examine whether the Army is in the right places and is organized the way it should be in the region, and whether changes need to be made.
Asked about automatic federal budget cuts that have squeezed the military, Brooks said the command will need to be careful about the pace at which it operates so it doesn't go through its resources too quickly.
"What we've got to do is be wise stewards, make the adjustments - which we know we have to make anyway - and then let the U.S. Congress and the president do what they need to do in terms of the political decisions that will either end sequestration or adjust it," Brooks said.
Brooks leads more than 80,000 soldiers from Washington state to Alaska, Hawaii and Japan as the commander of U.S. Army Pacific.
The 1980 West Point graduate comes to Hawaii from Shaw Air Force Base, S.C., where he led Third Army, which is responsible for U.S. land forces in the 20-nation region that falls under the U.S. Central Command.
Brooks comes from an Army family. His father retired as a major general, and his brother retired as a brigadier general. Theirs is the only African-American family to have three generals in two generations.