Army Secretary's Pacific Tour Stops in Hawaii

Eric Fanning
Eric Fanning

New Army Secretary Eric Fanning is in Hawaii with an agenda for his first Pacific tour that includes robotic technology, jungle training and ballistic missile defense.

"We've been fighting a certain way for 15 years," Fanning said, referencing Afghanistan and Iraq. But as mission sets change, "we are focused in the Army on getting back to full-spectrum training — training for all sorts of different types of fights (including) high-end fights or different types of fights than we've had."

That changing Army focus comes with a rising China, increasing North Korean missile threats and a resurgent Russia.

On the 12-day trip, Fanning, who became the 22nd secretary of the Army on May 18, will see a Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense site in Guam, stop in Malaysia, see Army prepositioned stocks in Japan, visit a Patriot missile site in South Korea and observe ballistic missile defenses in Alaska.

"As we focus on trying to make sure we're prepared for increasingly creative adversaries and emerging threats, we need to make sure we're fielding new technology as quickly as we can," Fanning said.

The Army secretary spent part of the day Tuesday at Marine Corps Training Area Bellows where Schofield Barracks soldiers demonstrated a range of robotic vehicles being tested to carry gear, emplace inflatable bridges, shoot back with a .50-caliber machine gun and clear routes of roadside bombs.

The Pacific manned, unmanned initiative known as PACMAN included drones as small as a hummingbird, weighing 18.5 grams with multiple live-feed cameras and the ability to range out to 1,300 meters.

On the other end of the spectrum, the route-clearance tracked vehicle being tested weighs 2,500 pounds.

Fanning also hiked into the Jungle Operations Training Center on Schofield's East Range where he watched and participated in ravine crossings, with ropes; fire starting with basic items (Fanning used a 9-volt battery and steel wool to spark a flame); and setting an animal snare using a bent tree limb.

A former acting secretary of the Army and chief of staff to the secretary of defense, Fanning has also served as an acting secretary of the Air Force and a deputy undersecretary of the Navy.

The new Army secretary looks younger than his 48 years, something not lost on the soldiers he talked to Tuesday. As the top civilian in charge of the Army, he is responsible for manpower, personnel, weapons systems and equipment acquisition, financial management and other tasks.

"I think our impressions of him are pretty good," said Staff Sgt. Larry Aviles, 28, one of the trainers at the jungle center in the woods and mud of East Range. "Even though he's young, it doesn't really matter to us. It's still somebody that cares only about the soldiers and the unit as a whole. So for him being able to come out and dress casually and not in a nice suit or anything like that, it shows us that he's comfortable with us."

Fanning also happens to be the first openly gay secretary of a military branch.

The Jungle Operations Training Center opened several years ago, and now trains 6,000 troops a year from multiple nations. Maj. Gen. Charles Flynn, who commands the 25th Infantry Division, said, "The skills, the training and the value of the leader and soldier development that goes on at the jungle training center is just absolutely applicable to our region across the Pacific."

As of Tuesday, 25th Division soldiers were training in 21 Asia-Pacific countries.

Fanning said later that the "Army is a critical part of missile defense." The THAAD system on Guam, which can protect against ballistic missiles inside or outside the atmosphere during their final, or terminal, phase of flight, was put in place to protect against North Korean threats.

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