By C. Todd Lopez
WASHINGTON (May 23, 2016) -- WASHINGTON (Army News Service) -- A primary benefit to participation in Pacific Pathways, said 1st Sgt. Christian E. Lopez, is that it provides for Soldiers ample opportunity to develop for the future.
"We set conditions at the Soldier level, and going into Pacific Pathways, it helps build future leaders," said Lopez, who serves in 5-1 Calvary Regiment, 1st Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division, at Fort Wainwright, Alaska. "Our Soldiers were able to train on live-fire exercises with the Japanese and Koreans. Noncommissioned officers conducted small-unit tactics with the Japan army, and we were also able to conduct force-on-force operations with both Japan and Korea."
Lopez participated in Pacific Pathways 2015-3. For that Pathways deployment, some members of his unit went to Mongolia to participate in exercise Khaan Quest, while he and others went instead to Japan to participate in Orient Shield, as well as Korea, to participate in Hoguk. He discussed the effects of participation in Pacific Pathways on his Soldiers, May 18, in the Pentagon.
"The reason why this is important is because it accelerates our Soldiers' development," Lopez said. "Those young Soldiers and leaders will be the key principals going forward into Pacific Pathways in the future."
Lopez said that while on the Pathways deployment, his Soldiers built trust with their counterparts in both the Korean and Japanese armies. That trust and familiarity may be important in the future, were there a need for American forces to fight alongside those militaries. But there was no need to wait for future conflict to see evidence of the benefits of that trust, Lopez said -- it was evident during his own Pathways deployment.
Without trust between the multi-national Soldiers participating in Pathways, "leaders might have hesitated on certain decisions," Lopez said. But that didn't happen. "Because we had good partnership, [because] we had that base of trust, they made those decisions where we could maneuver."
Col. Scott W. Kelly, commander of the 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division, at Schofield Barracks, Hawaii, participated in Pacific Pathways 15-02. That Pathways deployment involved exercise Hamel in Australia, Garuda Shield, in Indonesia, and Keris Strike, in Malaysia.
Before embarking on Pathways, Kelly said his unit went for some training at the Joint Readiness Training Center at Fort Polk, Louisiana.
"When we came out of there, we were doing graduate-level work as a BCT," Kelly said.
But involvement in Pacific Pathways upped their game substantially.
"At the end of that, we were doing doctorate-level work," Kelly said. "That's because of the complexity of the multiple deployments into and out of these different countries, the mission command we had to execute, being able to command and control forces back on Schofield Barracks, and execute the exercises forward was extremely challenging for us. My brigade was more ready at the end of Pathways than it was at the beginning."
In the past, units participating in an overseas exercise would leave home station, go to the exercise and work with a partner nation, and then return home when it was over. Under the Pacific Pathways model, they deploy overseas to the first of multiple exercises, work with a partner nation, and then move on from there to additional exercises. It requires the planning of the movement of both people and equipment from home station to a foreign country, and then movement between foreign countries as well.
"As I'm moving into Australia, I'm already having to plan and prepare to move to my next country, into Indonesia and Malaysia," Kelly said. "The complexity of planning and executing that makes Pacific Pathways much more valuable at least at the brigade and higher level. It forces that engagement of theater logistics ... that's how we develop agile leaders and adaptive staffs to sort through all that."
The complexity of Pacific Pathways, Kelly said, makes it an ideal environment in which to prepare new Soldiers for the future, and to also build readiness in the force beyond the counter-insurgency expertise the Army has been honing for well over a decade in the Middle East.
During the Pathways deployment, Kelly said, "young Soldiers who may have never deployed were getting that connection with their counterparts, all the way up to literally theater logistics units and planners having to work through the difficulty of operationalizing these three exercises together into one Pacific Pathways."
And with Pathways, Kelly said, Soldiers who participated must bring everything they need with them, and be prepared for anything, which is unlike past deployments to Iraq or Afghanistan, where most of the infrastructure was already in place.
"What Pathways is doing for us is [developing] that expeditionary mindset," Kelly said. "My formation used to deploy to a forward operating base, [and] there was a chow plan for feeding the formation, easy maintenance, repair parts right there. Contractors took care of everything. When you go out on Pathways, that infrastructure is not there. It's not a mature theater you're in. It's not even a theater. You have to literally go in and build all that stuff yourselves. So [we're] getting some great repetitions on the sustainment and logistics side specifically because of Pacific Pathways."
While Kelly said the Army wants to focus now more on decisive action and combined arms maneuver -- and Pacific Pathways helps develop that -- he said the Army doesn't want to lose the knowledge it built in Iraq and Afghanistan.
"As we come out of Iraq and Afghanistan -- a very counter-insurgency/asymmetric type of warfare -- those are lessons we don't want to leave behind," Kelly said. "We do not want to forget all the things we learned, all the doctrine, all the capabilities we've brought from our experiences in Iraq and Afghanistan."
OPERATING WITH PACIFIC PARTNERS
Early on in their deployment, Lopez said there were communications problems between his own Soldiers and the soldiers they worked alongside in Japan and Korea. Those problems would have to be solved to be effective partners, he said.
"We figured out we need to have liaisons within the units so we could communicate," he said. "There was a liaison that would be in one of my Strykers ... being able to communicate back and forth with their formation. That was very beneficial."
They also created a bilateral tactical operations center that allowed the units to better communicate with each other, he said.
"The coordination piece was very important, especially in Japan where we were initially trying to conduct a foreign link-up," he said. "That coordination between the U.S. and Japanese commander had to be on-point in order for the ground elements to conduct that link-up safely."
Lopez said that their creation of a bilateral TOC enabled a successful link-up.
"It helped us track the reconnaissance elements, [and] understand the way they maneuver their elements," Lopez said. "It was all because we were able to communicate bilaterally, working together in the same TOC. In Korea it was the same way."
IMPORTANCE OF PARTNERSHIPS
"The Pacific region is strategically important to our nation," Kelly said. "If you look at the primary threats we have in terms of nation state threats ... the bulk of them are out there. [There are] huge economic ties we have in Asia. The vast majority of the world's population is out there."
Pacific Pathways, Kelly said, helps the Army strengthen its readiness for a decisive action fight, and also helps strengthen existing partnerships in the Pacific region.
As the U.S. rebalances to the Pacific region, Kelly said, "the Army's portion of that is reengaging or reinvigorating some of these partnerships with these various countries and allies and partners we have in the region."
Pathways, he said, helps make that re-engagement happen.
"I think the value of it is [that] it helps us with our interoperability, so we can work better," he said. "It improves our capabilities and their capabilities. And it reassures them that the U.S. is committed to the Pacific region. The fact you have American Soldiers out there with the shoulder patch on, it really makes a difference."
When talking to his peers in the Pacific, Kelly said, he learned that they share many of the same concerns that the U.S. has, and U.S. presence in the region reinforces the message that the U.S. will stand behind its partners.
"In Australia and Indonesia and Malaysia, China was a topic for every counterpart I had," he said. "They clearly are concerned with China."
Kelly said that for Americans, concerns about Chinese assertiveness can seem distant -- but not for American allies in the Pacific region.
"To a smaller country like Indonesia and Malaysia, it's very real for them," he said. "It's very tangible ... I think the Pacific Pathways, having American Soldiers out there with them, having us engage with them, I think it helps reassure them in terms of the U.S. commitment to that region, how important it is. The fact that we are putting boots on the ground, the fact we physically have people out there with them -- I think it helps them with their calculus, as they are thinking through the issue out there."