U.S. Army elements in Alaska are preparing to host the Indian army for the next in a series of annual field engagements that aim to improve bilateral readiness and cooperation while demonstrating U.S. commitment to South Asia and the broader Asia-Pacific region, the U.S. Army Pacific commander told American Forces Press Service. U.S. Army Lt. Gen. Benjamin R. Mixon called the Yudh Abhyas exercise to be held next month on Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson an example of the growing theater security cooperation program under way throughout the region that's extending far beyond historical alliances.
Last year alone, U.S. Army Pacific conducted 214 of these events in 29 countries -- ranging from the Army's largest multinational exercise, involving 12,000 participants, to small staff-officer exchanges. While reinforcing military-to-military relationships with longtime partners in the region such as South Korea, Japan, Thailand, the Philippines and Australia, Mixon said the command is increasingly engaging with other strategically significant nations. These include Indonesia and Malaysia, important moderate Muslim nations, as well as India.
During Yudh Abhyas 2010, the 25th Infantry Division's 4th Brigade Combat Team "Spartans" will join their Indian counterparts in airborne and weapons exchanges and a brigade-level command post exercise.
"It's going to be a great exercise," Mixon said.
The training will build on last year's Yudh Abhyas exercise, the U.S. and Indian armies' largest joint military exercise ever, which also included the largest deployment of Stryker armored vehicles outside a combat zone. About 300 U.S. soldiers from the 25th Infantry Division's 2nd Squadron, 14th Cavalry Regiment, deployed from Hawaii with 18 Strykers to train with the Indian army's 7th Mechanized Infantry Battalion at one of India's premier military training sites.
These and similar engagements, Mixon said, are key building blocks in supporting a regional security framework. "The importance of the Asia-Pacific region is obvious to everybody," he said. "So across the board, having a U.S. presence on the ground in the Asia-Pacific region enhances peace and stability in the area." It also prepares the U.S. and partner militaries that could be called on with little notice to cooperatively support missions ranging from humanitarian assistance and disaster relief to peacekeeping.
"It prepares us if there are contingencies," Mixon said. "We have already built some very, very important relationships that make operations go a lot better when they first begin."
Mixon has presented Army leaders with a long-range plan to improve training areas within U.S. Army Pacific. The plan, if approved, will enhance capabilities and save dollars spent deploying Pacific-based U.S. units elsewhere for training, he said. But it will also offer U.S. Army Pacific new opportunities to host regional partners for military-to-military training such as Yudh Abhyas 2010.
Meanwhile, Mixon is emphasizing the importance of cultural "astuteness" among his troops. Recognizing the "hundreds and hundreds of languages and dialects and cultures" within Asia and the Pacific, he recognizes it's all but impossible for his soldiers to master the linguistic challenges the region presents. What he wants is for his soldiers to be willing to learn enough of a given language to show respect for the cultures of the people they engage with, and the curiosity to take that learning to the next level.
"By doing that, they become astute in how to operate in that particular country," he said. Mixon noted how many of his soldiers easily adapted as they shifted from one culture to another during exercises last year in Thailand and the Philippines. "That is what we want our soldiers to be able to do," he said.
As these efforts continue, U.S. Army Pacific is undergoing an internal reorganization that will improve its ability to support a operations in one of its key focus areas, the Korean peninsula. That initiative, called Pacific Integration, involves folding 8th U.S. Army in Korea into U.S. Army Pacific by next year. Eighth Army already has reorganized as the Army's only field army, poised on the Korean peninsula to fight alongside its South Korean counterparts, if required.
U.S. Army Pacific will provide enabling capabilities for 8th Army, along with other Army units throughout the region. Establishing a single Army service component in the Pacific will eliminate redundancies and provide a more efficient, more capable force, Mixon said.