Friday, April 13, 2012

An Army guy's take on the Navy in Asia

A friend of mine is an Army lieutenant stationed at Joint Base Lewis McChord in Tacoma, Washington. He told me about a year ago that they were primarily focused on Pacific affairs. After reading Dr. Farley's article on Foreign Policy yesterday about the US's Navy-centric pivot to Asia, I was curious to get a soldier's take. He wrote back a email with some great insights, so I thought I would share:

I think ultimately it is a multi-pronged, complex approach to the
region (unlike what we've been doing in the Middle East for the past
forty years).

The Navy has traditionally been the vessel through which the US can
most effectively implement its economic policies. The AF is more
diplomatically- and strategically-oriented with a focus on platforms
and realpolitik while the Army pretty much prepares for and engages in
everything from low-level conflicts to all-out invasions. The Navy is
the furthest service from actual combat but the closest to affecting
economic policy.

The Navy, more than any of the other services, keeps global trade
fluid and smooth. Their approach to China has been hot-cold...enough
to keep them somewhat docile but never really knowing what we're going
to do next. A perfect example of this was placing of 2,000+ Marines
in a permanent position in northern Australia a few months back
(caught the Chinese completely by surprise).

I think the administration realizes that Europe is economically
degrading, and we need to strengthen our relationships with Australia,
Indonesia, Japan, Thailand, India, etc. The Navy allows us to do

I Corps (all of the Fort Lewis units) do not fall under Pacific
Command (PACOM)...we fall under Force Command (FORSCOM). However, we
do have a very strong relationship with PACOM and pretty much act as
their reserve and conduct all sorts of joint exercises under the PACOM
umbrella. The 25th Infantry Division ("Tropic Lightning"...two
brigades at Hawaii and two at Alaska) actually falls under PACOM's
command, but they cannot do it all, so we conduct a lot of their
missions as well. 1st Special Forces Group is also stationed at
Lewis; their strategic area of command is PACOM (3rd Group is AFRICOM;
5th Group is CENTCOM; 7th Group is SOUTHCOM; and 10th Group is EUCOM),
but they actually fall under Special Operations Command (
the video game). 2nd Ranger Battalion, based here at Lewis, is the
only Ranger unit west of Georgia and has somewhat of a
Pacific-oriented outlook.

Other than my time in Iraq, my entire time as an officer in a
front-line infantry battalion has been focused on PACOM
missions...joint staff exercise with the Japanese here at Fort
Lewis...joint live-fire exercise with the 7th Royal Australian
Regiment in Australia with the ADF...joint live-fire exercise with the
5th Infantry Regiment of the Japanese Ground Self-Defense Force at
Yakima Training Center in central brigade has sent
infantry companies to Thailand, Singapore, India, and Korea in the
past year (on top of my battalion doing both the Australian and
Japanese exercises).

The Navy has traditionally dominated PACOM...the PACOM Commander has
almost always been a four-star admiral whereas the other six strategic
commands have almost always been Army or AF four-star generals
(although the Navy has held the SOUTHCOM and SOCOM commands on
occasion). The Navy assets (carrier groups, ports, etc) dedicated to
PACOM dwarf those of any other command. Just think back to our
history in the Pacific Rim...admirals and naval officers in tropical
white uniforms with wide-brim hats sipping drinks in Hawaii or the
Philippines or Thailand or Australia...the Marines in the Filipino
Insurrection, island hopping in WW2, Korea, Vietnam (General Mattis,
the new USMC Commandant has been described as an Oriental
Commander)... The Pacific is in so many ways the Navy's lake.

It's a smart, common sense move to have the Navy take the lead in our
policy in the region. They know it best, have formed the
relationships, and (sometimes) know the languages and cultures. Most
importantly, the very structure of the Navy is most conducive to
influencing the Pacific Rim.

There are some excellent things in here. First, he articulated what we have learned about the different roles of the branches. The Air Force's strategic prerogative, the Army's on-the-ground tactical role, and the Navy's place as the protector of economic stability. He gives a nice breakdown of interservice operations, as well as some insight into the combatant command structure. While one branch may have the lead, the jointness of the military is still integral. He gave some nice specifics on how the Army actually inserts itself into the Pacific arena via joint exercises with foreign units. Finally, it's good to see after last week's class on interservice rivalry that each branch recognizes the other's strengths and how those fit into the US's broader foreign policy objectives. This friend is a pretty staunch conservative, but I think even he would concede that Hillary Clinton making the right calls at the helm of American foreign affairs.

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