By C. Todd Lopez
WASHINGTON (Aug. 26, 2016) -- It's been five years since the White House first announced an American "pivot to the Pacific," now characterized as a "rebalance." That rebalance came as the United States was drawing down operations in Iraq and Afghanistan and aimed to refocus on partnerships in the Pacific region, including Japan and Korea.
As part of that ongoing rebalance, this week about 400 Soldiers in I Corps, headquartered out of Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Washington, headed to South Korea to participate in the Ulchi Freedom Guardian exercise, a joint and bilateral exercise involving as many as 75,000 military personnel from South Korea, the U.S. and Canada.
"It is the largest exercise we do with Korea all year," said Lt. Gen. Stephen R. Lanza, I Corps commander, who departed for the Korean peninsula on Tuesday, Aug. 23, to take charge of the I Corps operational headquarters during the exercise.
I Corps will have about 300 Soldiers participating in Korea, with an additional 100 from its support element. The rest of the corps will participate in the exercise from back at Joint Base Lewis-McChord. In total, 25,000 U.S service members, with about 50,000 Republic of Korea service members will participate.
"We'll be training also with the 1st Canadian Division, the 3rd Infantry Division, the 25th Infantry Division, and we'll have both our command post forward in the Pacific, and our main command post operating back here at Joint Base Lewis-McChord."
Soldiers from the 25th ID will participate from their headquarters in Hawaii, and American Soldiers in Japan will participate from their location. Also participating in Korea will be command posts from 1st Canadian Division and the 3rd Infantry Division.
The goal of Ulchi Freedom Guardian is to enhance training and readiness across the corps, at all levels, and develop relationships between U.S. and its partner forces. With increasing tensions between North Korea, and America's partner, South Korea, Lanza said the continued training is preparing I Corps to be a dependable partner should conflict arise.
"I'm very confident in the training and readiness of I Corps, whether it be to go to Korea or any place in the world," he said. "Obviously, there are contingencies for that. But I Corps remains ready, trained and ... able to respond to any contingency, whether it be in the Pacific or globally."
While the future remains unclear, Lanza said, one thing is certain: the Army will tackle any future conflict as a total force. That means the regular Army will depend on and fight alongside the Army National Guard and the Army Reserve, in the same way that the total force is now training together at Ulchi Freedom Guardian.
Given that the Army will be reduced in size in the coming years, Lanza said, more training in the future will have to be conducted collectively. In October, he said, he will participate in a senior leader conference at Joint Base Lewis-McChord involving I Corps, Guard and Reserve partners to plan just that kind of training.
I Corps is the only Army Corps currently assigned to a geographic combatant command. It has been aligned for more than four years now to U.S. Pacific Command. Its regional alignment, Lanza said, has enhanced trust with partner militaries and ensured the freedom within the Pacific needed to conduct operations.
"I've seen this grow. I've seen this progress," he said, "and I've seen it be very helpful to achieve [the goals of Adm. Harry Binkley Harris Jr., commander, U.S. Pacific Command] ... and his strategic approach to the security environment in the Pacific."