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Australian General To Be US Army Pacific Command's First Top Foreign Officer

10/24/2012 4:43 AM ET

For the first time in U.S. Army Pacific's history, an allied Army General will assume one of its highest positions as the Pentagon shifts its focus to Asia and builds alliances in the region.

Australian Major-General Rick Burns will join the U.S. Army's Pacific Command on November 4 as Deputy Commanding-General for operations.

This was announced by U.S. Army Lt-Gen. Francis J. Wiercinski during a conference call with journalists in Washington on Monday.

Foreign officers hold senior posts in U.S. military commands in Europe and Afghanistan, but Gen. Burns will be the first in Army Pacific.

As operations draw down in Afghanistan, the senior U.S. Army commander in the Asia-Pacific said he looked forward to opportunities to begin 30- to 45-day rotational deployments that would enable soldiers to train with their counterparts throughout the region.

Gen. Wiercinski underscored the importance of expanded Army engagement as the United States implements new strategic guidance focused on the Asia-Pacific region. But acknowledging that neither the United States nor its allies and partners in the region have an interest in establishing new U.S. bases there, he said he favors troop rotations to support more exercises and other military-to-military engagements.

The Marine Corps already is pulling six-month rotational deployments in Darwin, Australia, and the first Navy littoral ship will begin a rotation in Singapore beginning this spring.

Similar arrangements for the Army will help regional Armies get to "know each other and … know each other's techniques, tactics, procedures and doctrine," Wiercinski said.

"Relationships matter," he told a "DoD Live" bloggers round table, making it easier for militaries to operate together.

To reduce the time and cost of supporting troop rotations, Wiercinski hopes to pre-position equipment and supplies at key locations for the rotational forces to fall in on when they arrive in the theater. Equipment previously used in Iraq, or slated to be returned from Afghanistan as forces draw down there, could be pre-positioned in the Asia-Pacific region rather than mothballed in the United States, he said.

Pre-positioned equipment and a system of trained rotational forces provide more capability in the region and ensure better preparedness for contingencies that may arise, he said.

Asked about tensions on the Korean peninsula, Wiercinski said the United States' goal was to use the diplomatic process to prevent conflict from occurring. "It will not serve anyone's national interest if we have to go to conflict across the [Demilitarized Zone]," he said, adding that "everyone knows that no one would want that."

Noting that nobody has a crystal ball that can predict what will happen or what capabilities will be needed, Wiercinski identified one exception. "I can absolutely tell you that there will be a natural disaster in the Asia-Pacific rim soon," he said, whether it is an earthquake, tsunami, typhoon or other disaster.

As a result of that likelihood, most of the exercises U.S. Army Pacific participates include a humanitarian assistance and disaster response element.

Asked whether the U.S. "re balance" to the Asia-Pacific marginalizes the role of the Army, Wiercinski offered an emphatic "no."

Twenty-seven of the 28 militaries in the region are Army-dominant, and 21 regional chiefs of defense are Army Generals, he noted.

by RTT Staff Writer

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