Army weighs new Pacific deployment strategy
The U.S. Army in the Pacific said it is exploring a new deployment concept for exercises and engagements with foreign nations that would have rotational forces travel from exercise to exercise to exercise for months at a time.
Instead of having smaller units head out for 10 to 30 days for a single trip and then return to their home station, up to brigade-size elements of several thousand soldiers could be on call for extended overseas duty for as long as six months.
The Army said the "Pacific Pathways" concept, if adopted, would save taxpayer money by reducing troop travel and equipment moves, and build greater predictability into Army family schedules.
"I think this Pathways to the Pacific is a huge deal," said Sgt. Maj. of the Army Raymond F. Chandler III, calling the proposed approach "fundamentally different" than exercise deployments now.
The concept put together by Gen. Vincent Brooks, head of U.S. Army Pacific at Fort Shafter, and other leadership "has been well-received" by Adm. Samuel Locklear, the head of all U.S. forces in the Pacific, Chandler said.
The Army's highest-ranking enlisted soldier made the comments Wednesday on a swing through Hawaii and after a tour of a less-than-stereotypical Army asset — the 314-foot logistics support vessel SSGT Robert T. Kuroda, LSV-7.
As the United States "rebalances" to the Pacific and sequestration takes a toll on military budgets, the Army has found the need to be creative, adaptive and continuously relevant when the Air-Sea Battle concept focusing on the Navy and Air Force continues to get a lot of attention.
The Army has three logistics support vessels in Hawaii — two active duty and the Army Reserves' Kuroda.
The "roll on, roll off" cargo ship is named after the Hawaii boy with the 442nd Regimental Combat Team who led a charge in 1944 against enemy positions in France, firing a machine gun and throwing grenades until he was killed by a sniper.
Kuroda's Medal of Honor is on display inside the ship.
In August, Black Hawk, Kiowa Warrior and Chinook helicopter pilots with the 25th Combat Aviation Brigade out of Wheeler Army Airfield practiced landing on Navy ships.
"By successfully executing deck landing qualifications in our OH-58D, UH-60 and CH-47 aircraft types, we significantly expanded Pacific Command's maritime operational capabilities at a strategic level," Lt. Col. Hunter Marshall said at the time.
The Pacific Pathways concept would use "regionally aligned" Pacific forces from Hawaii, Alaska, Washington state, Japan and South Korea to create trained home station units that would be designated for rotational exercise and engagement duty in the region.
Rather than going to just one exercise as is the case now, soldiers would be mobilized for a certain length of time, and that might be 60 days, or it might end up being six months, an official said.
The return of soldiers from Iraq and Afghanistan missions to a Pacific focus makes the rotational deployments for exercises possible and harks back to something called "division ready force" in the 1990s with three-month cycles of training, schools, post duty and then on-call status for deployment around the world, the Army said.
Chandler said the Army National Guard and Army Reserve are part of the "total force" and have key partnership roles to play in exercises in the region.
"So I would expect that on each one of these exercises, some portion of the Guard and Reserve (would be) supporting, or in charge of, specific exercises and capabilities around the Pacific," he said.
Guard and Reserve units nationwide are expected to take "relatively minor" cuts to force structure as the active Army downsizes, but if sequestration continues, "we will be challenged to take all of the cuts out of the active component and there may be cuts that are taken in the Army National Guard and Reserve," Chandler said.
The 100th Battalion, 442nd Infantry Regiment, which is based in Hawaii and was the stuff of legend in World War II for bravery, remains the only infantry unit left in the Army Reserve.
Army Reserve headquarters said in late September that there were "no current plans to either dissolve or re-mission the 100th Battalion."