In one of the highest-ranking assignments of its kind, a two-star general with the Australian Defense Force has been named a deputy commanding general of U.S. Army Pacific, headquartered at Fort Shafter.
Army officials called the posting "unprecedented" for Army service component commands — of which Fort Shafter is one — and said it's rare to have a foreign officer that high in command in the U.S. Army.
Australian Maj. Gen. Richard "Rick" Maxwell Burr will start in early November. Among his duties, Burr will serve as the main command post deputy commanding general for contingency operations, direct the development of annual training and exercise plans, and provide oversight of engagement within the South Asia and Oceania areas, the Army said.
Burr will report to and advise and assist Lt. Gen. Francis Wiercinski, commander of U.S. Army Pacific.
Army Secretary John McHugh, stopping in Hawaii after visiting Turkey, Mongolia and South Korea, told reporters Monday that Army leaders in Hawaii are "trying to ensure what has been the case in all these years — that is that the Army remains a vital force in the Pacific." Bringing in Burr is part of the effort to maintain that importance, McHugh said.
McHugh said the Australians "have been one of, if not our most, critical partners" in places such as Afghanistan.
"I don't think it's surprising, then, as we look to engage in this part of the region, where we're looking for bilateral or trilateral and beyond relationships, that we'd bring in someone like Maj. Gen. Burr," McHugh said.
Burr commanded Australian Special Forces Task Groups in Afghanistan in 2002 and for the invasion of Iraq in 2003, and in 2008 was commander of all Special Forces assigned to the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan.
Maj. Gen. Roger F. Mathews also is a deputy commanding general at U.S. Army Pacific, which oversees Army forces in an area that covers half the globe.
There are combined force command elements in South Korea with U.S. Army and Korean officers, foreign liaison officers within U.S. commands, and a one-star Canadian general with the Army's III Corps in Texas, but Hawaii Army officials could not come up with any other foreign two-star officers in the Army.
Army officials were asked Monday how allies such as Japan and South Korea have viewed the Australian posting.
"Those are great allies and partners of the United States, and so there's been curiosity and some questions in that regard," said Mathews, the other deputy commander at U.S. Army Pacific.
ASKED whether there might be other, similar foreign officer appointments to the Army, McHugh said, "We're going to continue to do what we need to do to work on a regional basis."
He added, "When we talk about the United States' interest in the Pacific region, our concern is peace and stability (and) economic opportunity, and we don't view that as an America-only objective. We think it's critical that we work with all the nations of this region to pursue what I hope are goals that everyone shares."
McHugh said the Army conducted 160 engagements in the Pacific region last year.
But the Army's future funding in the region is somewhat unclear with the Pentagon pursuing an Air-Sea Battle concept relying heavily on the Navy and Air Force to deal with high-tech anti-access weaponry — particularly that of China in the South China Sea.
"The critical problem right now is making sure that those who make the national military strategic decisions understand the availability of these Army forces," McHugh said.
The Army now has an office where Air-Sea Battle is being formulated within the Pentagon, he said.
"As you look at this region — and I think people like (Adm. Samuel Locklear III, head of U.S. Pacific Command) would fully agree — you really can't approach a meaningful, successful strategy in the Pacific without Army forces," he said.
Twenty-two of 27 chiefs of defense in the region are part of their countries' armies, officials have said.
"So the history shows the Army has long been a critical player here in the Pacific," McHugh said. "I think the future will show that every bit as well."