Lt. Gen. Francis J. Wiercinski, commanding general of U.S. Army Pacific, kicked off the LANPAC Symposium and Exposition in Honolulu on Tuesday talking about two concerns on most Soldiers' minds right now: North Korea and sequestration.

In remarks that opened the "Land Forces: Assuring Stability and Security in the Pacific" symposium, Wiercinski focused on the many partnerships the United States has developed with allies in the region. Those partnerships have helped make the Asia-Pacific region secure, he said, but challenges like North Korea remain.

"This region's security environment is highly complex, with a myriad of security challenges," Wiercinski said. "These include the rapidly growing militaries, nuclear developments, unresolved territorial and resource disputes, violent extremism, natural disasters, proliferation, illicit trafficking, and the list goes on. The complex security environment continues to evolve with both positive and negative events.

"Unfortunately one of those negative trends is that North Korea continues to be a significant, volatile, destabilizing influence in the region," Wiercinski said. "Their possession of potential nuclear weapons and continued erratic behavior -- including open threats of nuclear attack against South Korea, Japan and the United States -- must be taken extremely seriously. Let me assure you that we are vigilant, we are monitoring that situation daily, and we are prepared."

After 12 years of war that led more than 170,000 Soldiers to be deployed away from the Asia-Pacific region, the Army is in the middle of a rebalancing effort to strengthen the U.S. Pacific Command, Wiercinski said.

"I can tell you today that the PACOM commander now has his Army back," Wiercinski said. "The Washington [state]-based I Corps and the Hawaii-based 25th Infantry Division have been removed from worldwide service rotation in the Middle East and are now permanently assigned to the PACOM commander. Additionally, this July, USARPAC will elevate to a four-star command. This is not only indicative of our rebalance toward the Pacific, but it is also filling a need that was established long, long ago. The importance of an Army land-forces four-star headquarters in the region cannot be overstated."

Though the Army's rebalancing effort will work to ensure the continued safety and security of the region, budget uncertainty in the United States has some worried that the commitment could falter. Wiercinski assured United States' allies in the region that their partnerships with the United States Army will continue to grow.

"There is a big elephant in the room, and we need to talk about it," Wiercinski said. "That is the discussion of fiscal uncertainty. Our engagements in this region are based on strategic, enduring interests. This does not change in light of the current fiscal recalibrations. We remain on track for more rebalance initiatives, and the implementation will gain momentum over time.

"Our Army has lived through this before. ... The guidance then is the guidance today: We will never sacrifice our leadership and our training as we continue through this difficult process," Wiercinski said. "The sequester has come to be of particular concern, and it is undeniably painful. It has required us to balance our priorities and to adjust our actions. However, it is a temporary challenge and not a lasting structural problem."

While acknowledging the threat North Korea poses to the security of the region, Wiercinski assured the audience that a focus on the Pacific will not lead to hostilities with China.

"To those who hold that the United States' reinforced engagement efforts are a veiled attempt to contain China, I echo the president and the secretaries of state and defense -- and my own heart -- when I tell you this is not true," Wiercinski said. "'Containment' is a Cold War term that could never be used to describe the tremendously interlinked relationships that we currently have with China in terms of trade, commercial investment, international education, tourism and more."

As the symposium moved toward panel discussions on how to ensure stability and security in the region, Wiercinski said the Army's focus on the Pacific will pay big dividends.

"That focus will foster positive engagement, peace and security," Wiercinski said. "The Pacific Ocean does not separate the United States from Asia; it connects us. We are intrinsically linked by our economies, our cultures, by our shared interests and by our security challenges. Our strategy is long-term, committed and resourced. Together, we are going to continue to build a mantle of success, peace and stability across this critical part of the world."


Jonathan (Jay) Koester may be reached at