HONOLULU — The U.S. Army Pacific commander lauded the return of the Land Forces Pacific Symposium here Tuesday, as he marked the first time it has been held in person for three years.
“The world virtually came to a halt,” Gen. Charles A. Flynn said about the pandemic. “COVID turned our focus, and rightfully so, to our nations, our citizens and our families as we all fought a common enemy.”
As COVID-19 restrictions have fallen, Flynn said he appreciated the opportunity to participate in LANPAC, which is the largest conference for armies in the Indo-Pacific region.
While the pandemic forced the symposium to go virtual, U.S. Army Soldiers have now been able to interact closely with allies from 25 nations as well as industry partners.
Flynn said the connections made during the three-day symposium, which is held by the Association of the U.S. Army, will help solidify partnerships in the region.
“After three years, this LANPAC is special,” Flynn said. “Because we understand each other better when we see each other and when we talk. You simply cannot replicate the connection we form when we’re face-to-face.”
Maj. Gen. JB Vowell, commander of U.S. Army Japan, who also attended and met with foreign counterparts, agreed and said the engagements bolster regional security and stability.
“LANPAC creates and perpetuates bonds, which form trust among militaries, helping us gain a richer understanding of our allies and partners’ initiatives and concerns,” Vowell said.
Despite challenges due to the pandemic, Flynn said USARPAC has still been able to strengthen interoperability under three efforts: joint training in austere environments, overseas exercises and the use of new formations.
The Joint Pacific Multinational Readiness Center, which is based in Alaska and Hawaii to provide training in arctic and jungle environments, held its first regional combat training center rotation to Alaska in March.
Last year, the center also sent its deployable training center to Indonesia as part of the Garuda Shield exercise. Flynn said the center’s exportable version can deliver live, virtual and constructive training to allies and partners.
Flynn said the plan this year is to expand Garuda Shield, which has normally been a bilateral exercise, to more than a dozen nations in a joint multinational exercise.
The exercise is part of Operation Pathways, which Flynn said provides operational endurance to U.S. Army units as they deploy across the region to train with foreign militaries.
“Through Pathways, our regional presence is at its highest level in more than a decade,” he said. “We are also building resilience against natural and manmade disasters.”
The series of joint exercises, he said, increase three kinds of interoperability: human relationships, technical by sharing systems and procedural processes.
“Thinking through these problems together, we thicken our nations’ resilience to crisis and to disaster,” Flynn said. “Because we are better together as a group.”
The general also highlighted new formations and said the Army’s third Multi-Domain Task Force, or MDTF, will eventually be stationed in the region.
The first MDTF is currently stationed at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Washington, and is also focused on the region, while the second MDTF falls under U.S. Army Europe and Africa.
The units are designed to counter anti-access/area denial, or A2/AD, capabilities and include an intelligence, cyberspace, electronic warfare and space detachment.
The 5th Security Force Assistance Brigade is also partnering in several nations across Asia and Oceania, he said.
“We’re building theater sustainment and increasing the use of Army watercraft and doing more through the use of our activity sets,” Flynn said.
“Together, we build this readiness, we build these relationships,” he added. “We stitch the very fabric of the regional security architecture together into something that is very durable and lasting.”
In a panel discussion on the strategic environment, Brig. Gen. Frederick Choo, chief of staff for the Singapore Army, said U.S. presence in the region help both nations strive toward the same objective.
“Stability is like the oxygen that we breath,” Choo said. “Every day we do it we kind of take it for granted, but you can be sure when you don’t have it you’re going to be gasping for air.
“I think that’s what guides us,” he added. “I think that it’s important, as like-minded nations, we keep this stability going, to keep this flow of oxygen going, so we can continue to thrive.”
USARPAC has the largest area of operations of any U.S. Army command that covers half the globe and consists of 36 nations. While much of the region is ocean, it is home to seven of the world’s 10 largest armies and nearly 2 billion people.
“Land power in this region is absolutely critical and it has been for a long time,” Flynn told the audience. “The connections we form aren’t just between our armies. Our relationships are at the root of it, as individuals. And my relationship with so many of you is proof of that bond.”