YONGSAN GARRISON, Republic of Korea (March 29, 2016) – With over 3.5 billion people, 36 countries, seven of the world’s largest Armies and five of the world’s declared nuclear nations in the Asia-Pacific region alone, maintaining peace can be challenging. That task is only amplified as the U.S. Army postures itself for reduced budgets and increasingly complex operating environments in the future.
In response to this daunting challenge, U.S. Army Pacific Commander Gen. Vincent K. Brooks developed an “innovation” in 2014 that enables the Army to maintain a heightened level of readiness while making efficient use of existing resources.
“Pacific Pathways is not a new initiative or program start, but an innovation that links a series of U.S. Pacific Command-directed Security Cooperation exercises with allied and partner militaries into a single operation,” explained Brooks. “The ‘pathway’ is the link between these previously-independent bilateral and multilateral exercises, and the unit is mission-tailored and task-organized for the entire series of exercises.”
The U.S. Army hosts a series of multilateral exercises throughout the Pacific Theater with countries including the Philippines, Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia, Cambodia, India and here in the Republic of Korea. Under the program a small expeditionary “nucleus” deploys to the region and moves from one exercise to the next, morphing at each stop to adapt to the particular needs of each partner nation and corresponding exercise.
As part of this year’s rotation, elements of the 1-2 Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 7th Infantry Division, also known as the “Ghost Brigade”, deployed to the Pacific with stops in Thailand for the annual exercise Cobra Gold, in South Korea for Foal Eagle and the Philippines for Balikatan.
While in South Korea, the brigade conducted a combined urban assault exercise, March 15, with the Republic of Korea 16th Mechanized Infantry Brigade at the Rodriguez Live Fire Complex near Pocheon. After only few months into their deployment, Soldiers from the 1-2 SBCT could already see some of the positive benefits of the training and also the inherent difficulty that comes with integrating in a bilateral exercise.
“In Thailand, we focused more on partnership,” said Elijah Dixon, a combat medic from the 1-2 SBCT. “Here in Korea we can get a little more in-depth with mount attacks and complex maneuvers because the language barrier is easier to overcome.”
When Brooks first started the program he wanted to “develop expeditionary readiness and adaptive leaders in a way not possible during home station training or at the Combat Training Centers”. From the reactions of Soldiers participating in this year’s training it seems his plan is having its intended effect.
In addition to the benefits experienced by U.S. Soldiers, each partner nation also gains experience and improved interoperability with American forces.
“This training provides South Korea an opportunity to acquire know-how from the U.S.’ warfare experiences while giving the U.S. (Soldiers) a chance to learn the geographical features of the Korean Peninsula for real-war applications,” said Lt. Col. Kim Seung-Kon, commander of the 16th Mechanized Infantry Brigade. “It is important that U.S. Soldiers participate in this exercise because (we) will have to conduct combined operations in a real-world situation and by working together it also strengthens our Alliance.”
Pacific Pathways could play a pivotal role in the future as expeditionary-sized forces greatly enhance the Army’s ability to deliver humanitarian supplies, restore critical infrastructure and provide emergency medical support rapidly. As the Army moves towards its goal of becoming “globally responsive and regionally engaged” Brooks has set the stage for cost-effective success in the Pacific Theater and strengthened the ROK-U.S. Alliance at the same time.