An Australian two-star general is visiting Joint Base Lewis-McChord this week with a message about the Army’s reinvigorated focus on the Pacific.
“It’s good to have you back,” said Maj. Gen. Rick Burr.
Burr is making the rounds in the Northwest as the deputy commanding general for U.S. Army Pacific in Hawaii. It’s a new position, and it’s intended to be reserved for Australians in the years ahead.
U.S. Army Pacific leads about 60,000 soldiers in Hawaii, Alaska, South Korea and at Lewis-McChord. It answers to the Defense Department’s Pacific Command under Adm. Samuel Locklear.
Burr’s position is one of several signals the Army is sending to convey that it’s serious about steering more resources to the Pacific and collaborating with its allies there.
Later this year, the top Army commander in the Pacific is scheduled to rise in rank to a four-star general position. Currently, it’s held by a three-star general.
“That really resonated extremely well on my last trip across the Pacific,” Lewis-McChord’s Lt. Gen. Robert Brown recently told Foreign Policy. “It was pretty clear to them, ‘Oh, I see, Europe going from a four-star and U.S. Army Pacific becoming a four-star.’”
At Lewis-McChord, the renewed attention on Asia means soldiers will be spending more time carrying out military-to-military exercises with allies and preparing for threats along the Pacific Rim. They could be tapped for humanitarian missions, or to work on drills intended to prevent full-scale conflicts from escalating.
“This is vital to our posture and the availability” of ground forces for Locklear’s command, Burr said.
Burr, a veteran of three deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan, has a portfolio in the Pacific that includes training, exercises and daily operations. He’s making time on his visit to Lewis-McChord to take a look at the Yakima Training Center, the high-desert expanse that regularly hosts exercises for local troops as well as an annual drill for the Japanese self-defense force.
He also checked out some of the high-tech, virtual training that Lewis-McChord commanders are providing to soldiers so they can make the most of their live exercises in the field.
Until recently, Lewis-McChord’s top Army command, the I Corps, had its focus almost entirely on Iraq and Afghanistan. Now it’s under Locklear’s influence, and it’s preparing for a slate of military exercises in Australia and Asia over the next year.
The first big one for I Corps will be in late July when the I Corps headquarters with Lt. Gen. Brown heads to Australia for an exercise known as Talisman Sabre.
Later, Lewis-McChord soldiers are expected to participate in drills in Japan, Thailand, Singapore and others.
Burr, a veteran of three deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan, said it’s unclear how many soldiers will travel for those exercises. You won’t see a full Stryker brigade with 4,000 soldiers heading out of the Port of Tacoma to take part in a month-long drill, but groups of infantrymen likely will travel overseas for the exercises and some will participate from home over satellite links.
He characterized the Pacific as a complex region with varying challenges in more than 30 nations. For him, just getting the troops to where they need to be presents its own obstacles. He did not disclose any plans to grow the footprint of a new U.S. Marines presence in Darwin, Australia.
He said logistics are a strength for Lewis-McChord in the Pacific because of its proximity to ports, railroads and airfields.
“Everything is a long way away, and it needs to be sustained by air or by sea,” he said.