STAFF: I'm pleased to introduce Lieutenant General Frank Wiercinski, the U.S. Army Pacific commanding general. This is the general's first time in the Pentagon press briefing room. He'll make very brief opening remarks and then we'll open up the floor to questions.
I'll ask that when you ask our question, please state your name and your affiliation. We have scheduled about 30 minutes for this press conference. Thank you.
LIEUTENANT GENERAL WIERCINSKI: As retirement begins to loom and I start finding myself doing "this is the last thing I'm doing; this is the last press briefing I'm doing." And this is probably the last time I'll be in the Pentagon. Next time you see me, I'll be in civilian clothes following that service member walking backwards, but I'm glad to be here today for you.
Now, the U.S. Army traces its lineage in the Asia-Pacific to 1898, when soldiers transitioned through Hawaii en route to the Philippines during the Spanish-American War. Today, approximately 79,000 soldiers are stationed throughout out the Asia-Pacific region. They're supporting efforts to prevent conflict, to shape the stability of the security environment, and to win our nation's wars.
Since 2001, more than 150,000 of these soldiers have deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan in support of combat operations in those countries. The forward-basing of these combat-proven soldiers in the Republic of Korea, Japan, along with soldiers based in Hawaii, Washington state and Alaska, is a visible sign of our nation's rebalance to the Asia Pacific and of our Army's continuing commitment to ensure regional security and stability.
U.S. Army Pacific is the decisive theater land-force power in the Asia-Pacific region. Responsible for covering half the globe, it includes 36 countries. USAPAC's area of responsibility in support of U.S. Pacific Command encompasses 16 time zones and covers 9,000 miles, from the coast of California to the Maldives, or as we sometimes describe it, from Hollywood to Bollywood.
Likewise, this region contains three of the world's largest economies, its four most-populous countries, and seven of the 10 largest armies in the world. Five of our seven treaty allies are located in Pacific Command.
We in the United States Army deal in the human domain -- the land and human domain. With 60 percent of the world's population and 62 percent of the world's economy, and growing daily.
Although most of the geography of the region is dominated by vast expanses of water, people live and work on the land. And, therefore, the Army will always have a key role to play ensuring lasting regional stability as a vital member of our joint team.
Annually, our soldiers participate in 24 large-scale exercises with 14 of the region's 36 countries. When you include all of our activities, we are participating in 191 engagements with 34 countries.
These efforts directly support national policy objectives and focus on developing multinational teams capable of supporting operations ranging from humanitarian assistance and disaster relief to exercising mutual defense agreements with our five regional treaty allies.
Major exercises with the Republic of Korea, the Philippine armed forces, the Royal Thai armed forces, the Australian Defense Force, Indonesia, the Japanese Ground Self-Defense Force and the Indian army, help build trust and confidence between America's Army in the Pacific and these partners and allies.
Additionally, America's Army in the Pacific participated in a series of successful disaster management engagement exercises with the People's Republic of China, the People's Liberation Army.
Last November's exchange in China included a tabletop exercise for the first time designed by the PLA [People’s Liberation Army]. Teams from U.S. Army-Pacific and the PLA worked through problems of how they would approach an earthquake disaster occurring in a third country.
This is an example of the type of land-domain activity that only land forces can provide. It supports our national leadership's intent to build habits of cooperation and mutual trust with the Chinese army wherever possible.
Quite simply, the Army recognizes that the United States and China have much more to gain from cooperation than from separation, and we're finding ways to work together.
Additionally, overcoming the tyranny of distance characteristic of this theater, the Army in the Pacific provides robust enabler support to our other joint services, including logistical and signal support as well as theater ballistic missile defense.
These are in addition to an Eighth Field Army in Korea, First Corps, based on Joint Base Lewis-McChord, the 2nd Infantry Division in the Republic of Korea, the 25th Infantry Division, stationed in Hawaii, along with nine brigade combat teams, two aviation -- combat aviation brigades, and 11 multifunctional brigades.
These resources all provide considerable operational depth and resiliency to the Pacific Command.
Rebalance to the Pacific has further contributed to our existing efforts in the region. The change of the Army Pacific Command to a four-star headquarters is a significant sign of the contribution of the rebalance in the region.
It's been 40 years since a four-star Army general has been in command. This July, Richardson Hall, the home of U.S. Army-Pacific, and the headquarters and -- ironically, once known during World War II as the Pineapple Pentagon -- will be home to a four-star general once again.
This year we welcomed the first allied general officer into our command as the deputy commanding general for operations. Major General Rick Burr from the Australian army is the first allied general to hold this position in the PACOM area of operations.
Major General Burr's presence in our headquarters symbolizes the rebalance in our longstanding alliance and celebrated relationship with Australia. And we're honored to have him on the team.
The way ahead for America's Army in the Pacific is marked by change. With the eventual impacts of the current fiscal environment yet unclear, it's raising the demand for limited resources throughout the region, and the constant threat of natural disaster.
USARPAC will face these significant complex challenges and meet them head-on.
Today's message to our partners, allies and friends throughout the region is that America's Army in the Pacific stands ready as a partner to continue to provide assured security, and stability for all.
And with that, I'm proud to take your questions.
Q: Stephanie Gaskell with Politico.
Could you talk a little bit about some of the budget cuts and -- and how you're mitigating some cuts, how it's affecting you, if you've shifted things around, if there's things that you need that you don't have, or, you know, whatever your budget concerns are?
LT. GEN. WIERCINSKI: Well, clearly, the sequestration has provided -- given us limitations. There are certainly things that we cannot touch and that we must ensure that are obviously resourced the highest. All of the -- our operations on the Korean peninsula, for example, and all of the enabling forces that will respond should anything occur on the Korean peninsula are fenced.
What that does is, it raises the amounts of decrement to the other units that don't particularly fall under those categories and some of our units will begin to feel the -- the effects of that sequestration here in about June, July time frame.
We're hoping to be able to work through those for the remainder of the fiscal year. We've been able to fence our engagements throughout our theater of operations, and our allies and our partners for which we have exercises and engagement, those will continue to move forward and I think we've been able to do a good job with that.
Q: What are the -- excuse me -- Richard Sisk, Military.com.
Can you describe some of these effects that you consider might be coming other than -- other than...
LT. GEN. WIERCINSKI: Sure.
Q: ... with U.S. Forces Korea?
LT. GEN. WIERCINSKI: Well, the people are there. The equipment is there. It's the ability now to utilize that equipment, to maintain that equipment to standards that is where we'll feel the most heat. Our ability to train with that equipment to fuel our vehicles, to fuel our aircraft, that is where we will feel some of the impacts of this in some of our units. We want to make sure that the maintenance of our equipment, although we're not going to be able to raise it to the highest standard we want, we want to make sure that we're keeping our equipment to a standard, obviously safe and operational so that when things return to a normal state we can bring them back up to the highest level quickly, and not fall over that edge where we cannot bring it back.
Q: Why did you reference June and July as when you'll feel the most heat?
What sort of converges -- converges at that point?
LT. GEN. WIERCINSKI: That's when the budgets for these types of equipment start to run out. And, depending on the training levels of each one of those units, it will matter. And, some of them fall in the June time frame, some of them will fall in the July time frame. What we're trying to do now is mitigate that, and ensure that we're maintaining qualified crews, both flight crews, striker crews, individual units, weapons proficiency, individual units' tactical proficiency so that we can make it through tot he end of the fiscal year.
Q: Kevin Barron from Foreign Policy.
So does all of the sequester or what's to come affect your ability to do military diplomacy type of activities or face to face interactions with the other nations in the region?
LT. GEN. WIERCINSKI: That's the part I've been able to fence.
Because, I believe that's one of our primary missions, and literally my primary mission in -- in the theater.
I place so much emphasis on engagement and open communication and partnering with our allies, friends and partners that we have been able to do that and we've been able to fence that. It might not be at the highest level we can, but we've been able to save everything that we have promised. And, in this business, with relationship building, is building trust. And, that's the part that I want to make sure we hold on to, especially, and the part that we maintain with our allies.
Q: So, kind of a similar topic. The idea of these regionally aligned brigades that's been talked about at least in this building.
Tell me what you think of that versus how the -- the Guard has its own, you know, foreign area specialist (inaudible) work overseas as well?
Is that something you're looking forward to? Or has that become more complicating?
LT. GEN. WIERCINSKI: No, it's actually -- it's actually a great concept for us. What is does is, it ensures the PACOM commander always has the same number of Army forces available to him in theater, regardless of who may be called out to do something. Right now, our chief of staff of the Army, General Odierno, has been able to fence the units of the Pacific from further deployments to -- to Afghanistan. Will that be able to hold? We hope so, but if not, and one unit has to be pulled out, regional aligned brigades allows us now to focus another brigade, perhaps in the mainland, back into our AOR so that the PACOM commander always has that.
The National Guard has a state sponsorship program with several of our units –it’s very -- with several of our country partner nations. It’s very strong. In fact, on several occasions when I go to a -- a country and speak with their chief of army, one of the first things they talk about is their state partnership. We're very proud of that. And I think -- I believe our National Guard forces are also very proud of it.
So, I think that's a strength. I think that's a combat multiplier and we're going to continue to leverage that.
Q: You think both happens, so it's not an either/or?
LT. GEN. WIERCINSKI: That's correct.
Q: Carlo Munoz with The Hill.
You mentioned a few things that have been sort of fenced off -- I mean, kind of within the Pacific A.O. What I wanted to ask you, is do you -- do you anticipate any of those fences sort of coming down or being adjusted as the Defense Department does this sort of strategic look at the way -- at the way forward for -- for your -- for this command and others across the world?
LT. GEN. WIERCINSKI: I do not. I feel that we will always prioritize our soldiers going into harm's way and our soldiers being deployed. And then our next priority right behind that is to fence Korea and our commitment there in that alliance.
I cannot -- never see a point of time where we would come off of that. We -- we may suffer in other training venues and we may have to adjust to other ways of doing business with units who aren't fenced for that, but those specifically I can guarantee you will be fenced.
Q: General, Paul Shinkman with U.S. News and World Report.
There has been a lot of discussion about the Arctic in recent weeks. It seems to be mostly a naval and Air Force discussion, but the White House came out with their strategy on Friday. I wonder what part the Army is going to play in that sort of burgeoning field?
LT. GEN. WIERCINSKI: Well, we've had -- our U.S. Army Alaska also having been fenced most recently, has an entire striker brigade combat team. It has the only airborne brigade in the theater for the PACOM commander. And those -- both of those units are fenced. Specifically what they do in the Arctic, I have not been able or have not been given direction from that policy statement as of yet and really can't address that. But they are always there and they are always training in that environment.
They also train with many of our partner nations that have the same typical type of environments, once again getting back to that regional alignment that we had just talked about. So, they're partnering with northern Hokkaido in Japan. They're partnering with Nepal. They're partnering with India. They're partnering with the southern island in New Zealand -- you know, all of the places where their tactics, techniques and procedures are the same.
And we -- we will continue to do that and be prepared. But to answer your specific question on the Arctic, I don't have an answer for that.
Q: Yes, ongoing military exercise in South Korea right now, and North Korea announced it's strongly threatening U.S. in South Korea. How do you respond on this?
LT. GEN. WIERCINSKI: I've seen this for 34 years -- cyclical provocation with the grandfather, the father and now the son. It's -- it's nothing that I wouldn't -- have not expected. However, I would think that this time it was a tenuous situation. For the first time, we deployed theater ballistic missile defense to Guam in protection of the homeland.
They have a demonstrated capability to place a missile into space. We've seen that. They have a purported testing of nuclear weapons systems. And we take that very seriously. But it appears the rhetoric has died down in recent days and we're hoping that that cycle of provocation has come to its end-point for this -- this cycle.
Q: This exercise until 2015 and OPCON transfer of wartime operation commander continue these exercises, should they?
LT. GEN. WIERCINSKI: The exercises will continue just as they are now. General Thurman is committed on the peninsula, with General Jung, the chairman of the South Korean forces. And they are working straightforward, no change to our exercise plans.
Yes, ma'am? Yes, sir?
Q: General, I'm Carl Osgood with Executive Intelligence Review.
Could you talk a little bit more about your engagement with China? Because I know that one thing that the Chinese see with this re-posturing, they see high-end U.S. combat forces moving closer to China. How do you explain that to them so that they don't see it as a provocation?
LT. GEN. WIERCINSKI: I can talk to you from an Army standpoint. We engage with our treaties' allies and friends -- five treaty allies in the Asia-Pacific -- South Korea, Japan, the Philippines, Thailand and Australia. We are going to meet our commitments with our treaty allies.
We also have partners, neighbors and friends that we engage with on a routine basis throughout the entire area of operation, particularly all 28 nations that have military forces.
I believe that the Army is -- is extremely well-suited to conduct continuous engagement with the Chinese because our army-to-army forces are literally at this point not a threat to each other.
Our engagements with disaster management exercises, military medicine, engineering projects, these are all peacekeeping operations. These are all excellent opportunities for us to begin mil-to-mil discussions.
And I can only hope that those will continue in the future. I believe that with the four-star headquarters coming to U.S. Army- Pacific, that will only increase the opportunity for increased visits. And I see us with a way ahead, as we move forward.
Q: Hi, general. Jon Harper with the Asahi Shinbun.
LT. GEN. WIERCINSKI: Yeah.
Q: In light of all the tensions on the Korean Peninsula, do you think that the 2015 OPCON transfer should be reconsidered, and maybe push that back a few years?
LT. GEN. WIERCINSKI: That's a decision for both of our governments to make. And really not in my lane.
Q: Hi. My name is Mathieu Rabechault with AFP.
I was wondering if you had started this kind of military diplomatic engagements with countries like Indonesia or Burma.
LT. GEN. WIERCINSKI: Well, thank you for asking that question. Yes. As a matter of fact, I was invited by the State Department, and the first U.S. military general officer in Burma in 25 years.
And I was part of a human rights dialogue with the State Department.
I found it a great step. There's much to be done, and our countries are working very closely, particularly the State Department and the -- and the White House, in developing policy forward on that.
We are prepared to execute what we are told.
But from what I saw, it was a first step. And hopefully it will continue in some small way, as we are given more authority to do that.
Indonesia, we are very proud of the building and budding relationship that we're having army to army with Indonesia.
In fact, in two months time, we'll be conducting Exercise Garuda Shield with the Indonesian land forces in Indonesia. Elements of the 82nd Airborne Division will be part of Garuda Shield. There will be an airborne operation, a combined airborne operation. And that -- that relationship is really developing well and I’m very proud of it.
Q: To be clear, as of now with Burma, there is not decision yet to pursue with the human rights engagements...
LT. GEN. WIERCINSKI: I have not been given any further direction to move forward at this time. That's correct.
Q: Luis Martinez of ABC News. You mentioned this engagement with Indonesia. As the drawdown in Afghanistan continues, are you seeing more opportunities where you can engage forces that would have been deployed to Afghanistan, like, say, the 82nd?
LT. GEN. WIERCINSKI: Absolutely.
Q: Can you talk about how that's ramping up and what you envision over the next couple years?
LT. GEN. WIERCINSKI: Yes. That's a -- that's a great question.
As our soldiers come off of a deployment cycle -- and, as you know, at one point in time there in the Asia-Pacific, we either had soldiers coming back in refit, reset, soldiers downrange in combat operations, or soldiers preparing to go.
And the -- and the Pacific commander did not have his Army element in the Pacific. He has that now.
With our 1st Corps at the Joint Base Lewis-McChord now focused solely on the Pacific region, with our 25th Infantry Division now focused solely back into -- in the Asia-Pacific region, we now have -- and the PACOM commander has -- his Army forces available for engagement and exercise in multiple locations throughout the Asia Pacific, things that we have not been able to do in the past 11 years.
I'm very excited about those opportunities.
Q: And what additional -- I mean are you seeing additional things now that may not have been open before? Are partner nations reaching out to you, saying, well you have these -- you have this capability now, can we engage?
LT. GEN. WIERCINSKI: Absolutely, matter of fact, I just came from Fort Bragg, North Carolina, where we had a contingent of Indian army, both Paras and Gurkhas, training with the 82nd Airborne Division.
Last year we were in Jaipur, in India, training with our Strykers in India.
We're seeing more military exercises, as we discussed, in Indonesia, Malaysia, Australia, New Zealand, the Philippines. And, of course, our tremendous continued relationship and exercises with South Korea and Japan.
Q: I'd like to ask about the headquarters plus-up. How much -- how significant is the -- is that gonna be in terms of personnel?
LT. GEN. WIERCINSKI: Well, as I'm very fond of saying, it's not what we're getting, it's what we're getting back.
We've had these forces, but for the last 11 years they haven't been there. So the 79,000 figure that I gave you are the number of soldiers that we'll have in the Asia-Pacific AOR for use by the PACOM commander.
Q: A follow-up to my earlier question. General Dempsey, when he was in Beijing was very praiseworthy of the Chinese -- the PLA response to the earthquake in Sichuan province.
Is this something that U.S. Army Pacific is looking at to see what lessons could be drawn from what they did?
LT. GEN. WIERCINSKI: Absolutely. You know, we learn lessons from every type of operation that occurs, and whatever we can learn, trading of tactics, techniques, procedures and however we can build better coordination and synchronization and understand each other and the way that we operate before something happens, the better prepared we are to save life, property, you know, those initial 72 hours, 100 hours are critical.
And, if you've never worked together, if you don't understand the way each operates or the coordinations involved, you're wasting time. That's why we train with so many different countries, that's why we try to learn as much as we can. It's -- it's a great opportunity.
Q: Hi, Jennifer Hlad from Stars and Stripes.
With the Pacific rebalance, some of the services are doing increased rotational deployments, but it's -- as far as I understand, it seems like the Army is actually doing more like permanent -- I mean, permanent -- but, basing of troops versus rotational deployments.
Is that true?
LT. GEN. WIERCINSKI: Actually, what we're trying to do now in Korea is work towards a rotational...
LT. GEN. WIERCINSKI: ... force structure. We've always had individual replacements in Korea.
If -- if you think about that, that's -- it - that's hard to manage, and it's hard to continuously train to a high standards, because you're constantly moving leadership out, you're constantly breaking up teams. If we can get to rotational units to Korea, they train together for an entire period of time, they deploy together and they're train and they stay together. And, then they redeploy out as they're -- as they're replaced, as units.
I think that is something that we are working very hard to move towards. It increases not only our efficiency, but also our training readiness and high standards.
Q: This ongoing exercise I'm talking about, who is leading these exercises? Is U.S. military leading or South Korean military is leading these exercises?
LT. GEN. WIERCINSKI: Well, OPCON transfer is coming in the future. I'm -- I'm not sure about the actual date, but right now it's -- it's -- you have General Thurman, who is the CFC [Combined Forces Command] commander on the U.S. side, and you had General Jung, the chairman of the South Korean forces on the Korean side.
And -- and I've watched both of those gentlemen in multiple exercises over the past two years exercise command and control.
Any other questions?
Ladies and gentlemen – oh, sir?
Q: One last one.
If you could possibly project a little bit. The whole rebalance, Pacific pivot, questions raised about whether the -- whether the world situation will allow, and we keep getting drawn back to the Mid-East; and also on whether the resources will be there, sequester continuing. Even before sequester came into place there were a lot of think-tanks coming out with stuff about whether or not we could really pull this off.
You've talked about some of the limitations already, you know, on your maintenance, other than what's fenced off in Korea, how do you see this going forward, the Army's -- the Army's position in this and the future? Is this really going to happen?
LT. GEN. WIERCINSKI: I am very positive about it. It's a hypothetical. You know, I -- I can't think about the future, but what I've seen in the past two years is we have walked the talk.
General Odierno made promises to the Pacific commander and he has made good on those. First Corps, as I mentioned, 1st Corps is back. The 25th Infantry Division is back. All of their brigade combat teams are off the deployment charts to the Middle East.
Yes, we are in sequestration and yes we are a part of that, but I'm still seeing the resources to continue engagement, to continue exercises in each and every one of those countries. And we've been able to -- to fence those.
You know, the three big things to me, that have stood out in -- in these two years about this rebalance that are extremely visible and extremely game changing are, the return of the forces to the PACOM commander as we discussed, the addition of an Australian deputy commanding general to the headquarters of U.S. Army Pacific; and raising the level of U.S. Army Pacific from a three-star to a four- star headquarters.
That is a major change. And that is a commitment across the globe of -- of rebalance to the Asia-Pacific. And I think is very, very strong.
Q: (inaudible) Japanese News Agency.
Facing the North Korean missile threat, do you have any plans to bolster missile defense against North Korea? More flexible – a Patriot battalion into the Korean peninsula? Or more strengthened coordination with the South Koreans?
LT. GEN. WIERCINSKI: We are constantly in coordination -- South Korea, Japan, the United States and all of our services. Theater ballistic missile defense is integrated. It's not only the Army. It's the Navy, the Air Force, combined forces of South Korea, Japan and the United States.
I've already mentioned, for the first time ever, a THAAD battery deployed to Guam for the first time ever. That's a big change. But you're still seeing that integrated and synchronized defense. I believe that that will continue, if not get stronger. To get into the specifics of that, I can't really enter that discussion right now.
Q: That question just reminded me -- are there going to be additional THAAD deployments throughout the PACOM region in years to come? Or is this just a one-off?
LT. GEN. WIERCINSKI: Right now, we have the one THAAD deployment to Guam. That's the only one I'm aware of right now.
LT. GEN. WIERCINSKI: There is no time limit on it right now. It's conditions-based.
STAFF: We stuck to the 30 minutes time just perfectly. (Laughter.)
LT. GEN. WIERCINSKI: Ladies and gentlemen, thank you for your insightful questions. Thank you very much.