US Army Pacific commander says a top priority is incorporating growth of soldiers in region

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HONOLULU — The Army's commander in the Pacific said Thursday one of his top priorities is incorporating the growth of U.S. soldiers assigned to the region.

Over 100,000 soldiers are now assigned to the U.S. Pacific Command, Gen. Vincent Brooks said in an interview. That's up from about 80,000 before President Barack Obama implemented his policy of "rebalancing" U.S. attention to the Asia-Pacific region, he said.

Brooks said one of the most visible ways the military is using the extra soldiers is deploying them to a series of exercises with partner countries.

For example, earlier this year Hawaii-based soldiers from the 25th Infantry Division's 2nd Stryker Brigade Combat Team traveled to Thailand, South Korea and the Philippines for three separate exercises over three months.

The deployments allow the soldiers to train and forge partnerships with other militaries. Sending one unit to participate in three separate drills adds to the Army's presence in the region and saves money, Brooks said.

"What this does is it keeps these highly ready U.S. Army forces west of the international dateline for a persistent period of time, interacting with multiple countries," Brooks said on the sidelines of a meeting in Waikiki on land power in the Pacific.

The exercises are all ones the U.S. had planned to join anyway. Some of them are bilateral drills the U.S. holds with allies on an annual basis. But Brooks said the Army hones its skills for longer deployments by making them a series.

"We're getting far more than what the exercise scenarios can offer to us in continuously rehearsing our ability to organize and project, to sustain and move," Brooks said. The Army calls the initiative, which launched last year, "Pacific Pathways."

This summer, soldiers based in Alaska and Hawaii will each depart on a separate series of drills. Members of the Alaska-based 1st Brigade Combat Team from Fort Wainwright will go to Mongolia, Japan and South Korea.

Soldiers from the Hawaii-based 3rd Brigade Combat Team from Schofield Barracks will join exercises in Australia, Indonesia and Malaysia.

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