Army: The Asia pivot is about us too

With all due respect to the Navy and Air Force, the U.S. Army wants Washington to know that the “pivot” to Asia actually will be their gig.

With 70,000 soldiers under U.S. Pacific Command and a robust relationships in a region dominated by land forces, the top Army officer in the Pacific made his case in Washington on Tuesday for why he deserves full support to “meet our Title X responsibilities” to be postured and prepared for any contingencies of the future.

And so begins the real fight over a defense spending -- not a fight between Republicans and Democrats or Congress and the White House, but one that has the military services scrambling to secure what they can for the Pacific pivot, amid limited budgets, equipment, and manpower.

“Most people, when the think of the Asia pacific, they think of our [Navy] and Air Force breathren … but it is an Army theater,” said Lt. Gen. Francis J. Wiercinski, commanding general of U.S. Army Pacific (USARPAC), on a two-hour panel at the Association of the U.S. Army’s conference.

“Seven of the ten largest armies in the world are in the Pacific. Of the 28 nations that have militaries, in our area of responsibility, 27 of those nations are army-dominant. Twenty-one of the 28 chiefs of defense are army generals,” said Wiercinski.

Wiercinski led a panel of Army and State Department officials who explained their activities in the Asia-Pacific today and to come. The phrase “tyranny of distance” was used often -- militarese for saying the Pacific is huge -- but the better descriptor of theater’s size is “Bollywood to Hollywood,” touching from India to California.

Across PACOM, the three-star general said, the Army is the service prepositioning equipment and training the massive land forces of foreign governments that are keeping terrorism relatively muted. Counterterrorism was barely mentioned in a two hour talk about the region by Army and State Department officials. His argument: what the Army does is a cheap way to fulfill the mission of rebalancing, pivoting, or whatever else one wants tocall it.  

“Quite frankly there’s not an appetite for U.S. forces to be forward stationed in foreign countries, but there’s a huge appetite to be training and engaging with the United States Army,” he said. Those training exercises allow the army to place equipment in countries across the region without permanent bases or formal stations.

The panel offered little new as to just how much more training and equipping, or how many troops or U.S. families, were expected to be moved into the Pacific to meet the needs of the pivot. Those metrics remain fuzzy.

But Wiercinski made his point, with congressional staffers in the audience to hear it.

“This rebalance to the Pacific is not a military event. This is a whole of government approach,” he said. “We as the military are one part of that. And we as the Army are one part of our military.”

On Wednesday, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta hosts South Korea's Defense Minister Kim Kwan-Jin at the Pentagon for annual talks. A press conference is scheduled for the morning.

SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images