U.S. Army units in the Pacific remain poised to respond to an attack from North Korea while trying to cope with the competing demands of the rebalance of forces to Asia and shrinking budgets, the top ground commander in the region said Monday.
“The people are there, the equipment is there” to do the Army’s part in the so-called Pacific pivot under the strategic rebalance of forces designed to put 60 percent of the military’s assets in the Asia-Pacific region over the next 10 years, said Army Lt. Gen. Frank Wiercinski, commander of U.S. Army Pacific.
However, Wiercinski said he wasn’t sure the funding would be there under the Congressional sequester process to maintain and service the troops’ gear as they flow back to the Pacific following commitments to the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.
“Clearly, the sequester provides us with limitations,” as current budgets for maintenance run out in June and July, Wiercinski said at a Pentagon briefing. “That is where we’ll feel the most heat” to shift funds from other priorities, he said. “What we’re trying to do now is mitigate that.”
The Army has demonstrated its commitment to the pivot by turning his job into a four-star command on a par with the commanders of the U.S. Pacific Fleet, the Pacific Air Forces and the U.S. Pacific Command, said Wiercinski, who will be retiring this summer.
He will be replaced at Fort Shafter in Hawaii, headquarters of the U.S. Army Pacific, by Gen. Vincent K. Brooks, who was promoted to four-star rank in February.
The commitments to keep 19,000 soldiers at the ready in South Korea while picking up the pace on joint exercises with regional allies were his top priorities, Wiercinski said. “That’s the part I’ve been able to fence” off against the sequester cuts, he said.
“I can never see a time where we’d come off of that,” Wiercinski said of the Army’s role in backing up South Korean troops against thrreats from North Korea.
“I’ve seen this for 34 years” in the Army, Wiercinski said of the “cyclical provocations from the grandfather, the father and now the son.” He referred to the dictatorial rule in North Korea of Kim Il-sung, Kim Jong-il and Kim Jong-un.
The rhetoric has calmed down following weeks of threats from the North to launch missiles at the U.S., but Wiercinski said U.S. forces must remain poised to respond.