The Army in the Pacific is starting a new deployment concept this week that sends soldiers out into the region for multiple exercises and longer stays in foreign countries that are intended to reassure partner nations and develop closer relationships as the United States continues its “rebalance” to the Pacific.
Developed out of Fort Shafter, “Pacific Pathways” also is a new Army strategy to stay relevant as large occupational land forces that are costly and slow to mobilize become less viable.
About 550 soldiers with the 2nd Stryker Brigade Combat Team out of Washington state and supporting units are heading to Indonesia for the exercise Garuda Shield in the first iteration of Pacific Pathways, the Army said.
The soldiers will utilize nine Stryker armored vehicles and eight helicopters.
About 500 other 2nd Stryker and supporting soldiers will head to Malaysia with 11 Stryker vehicles and three helicopters for the exercise Keris Strike, which overlaps with the Indonesia training.
The first group of 550 soldiers and others will then leapfrog over to Japan for Orient Shield, the Army said.
My tour in the 25th ID meant I was part of US Army Pacific. And at that time, there was a fairly regular schedule of international training exercises with a wide variety of nations throughout the Pacific. Team Spirit was the biggest, partnering the US Army with the Republic of Korea. Generally, in addition to the 2nd Infantry Division stationed in Korea, at least a brigade from the 25th ID would deploy for the exercise, in addition to various Air Force, Navy and Marine units. Other major exercises included Cobra Gold with Thailand, and various smaller, usually battalion sized deployments to Japan, Indonesia, and Malaysia.
Given that there were 9 Infantry battalions in the division, a soldier could expect to only participate in one or two major deployments of about one month in a year. That reduced the burden of a high operational tempo and spread the benefits of training exercises across all the units of the division.
That didn’t count the availability of the 7th and 9th Infantry Divisions to send troops on their own training deployments.
During the height of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Army had a crushing operational tempo, with some soldiers spending half their enlistments deployed overseas to a war zone. The risks of battle are bad enough, but the disruption to any chance at a semblance of a family life drive many of the best and brightest out the door. And somewhat obviously, the longer a soldier stayed in, the longer they could anticipate being deployed.
So I’m not entirely sure the 550 or so troops are going to be thrilled to deploy on a series of back to back training missions overseas, away from their homes and families, when they might reasonably point out that other troops might be available to take of month of training of their own.