HONOLULU — For the first time in nearly four decades, the U.S. Army in the Pacific is again being run by a four-star general, reflecting the pendulum swing of the nation's attention back to the region after 12 years of war in the Middle East.
Gen. Vincent K. Brooks received that fourth star Tuesday, and took over in a change-of-command ceremony from three-star Lt. Gen. Frank Wiercinski, who is retiring in Hawaii with his wife, Jeannine, after 34 years of Army service.
In 1974, after the end of the Vietnam War for U.S. troops, the Fort Shafter command was downgraded from four stars to three.
Adm. Samuel Locklear III, head of U.S. Pacific Command at Camp Smith, ticked off the reasons for the renewed emphasis, with U.S. Army Pacific covering 52 percent of the globe. The region has the biggest nations and economies, and seven of the 10 largest armies, he said.
"We never left the Pacific, but we did have our attention focused on some other areas as well, and this is about returning our focus back to the Pacific," Brooks said after the ceremony.
More than 1,000 civilians and foreign and U.S. soldiers, among them Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ray Odierno, attended the ceremony at historic Palm Circle on Fort Shafter.
A 1980 West Point graduate, Brooks most recently was commander of the 3rd Army/United States Central in South Carolina with portions of the command continuously deployed to countries including Kuwait, Qatar, Afghanistan and Bahrain.
His father, Leo Brooks Sr., is a retired major general, and his brother, Leo Brooks Jr., is a retired brigadier general.
Brooks is part of the only African-American family in U.S. military history to have three general officers in two generations, the Army said.
U.S. Army Pacific's switch back to four stars was championed by the late U.S. Sen. Daniel Inouye, a war hero who died in December at the age of 88 after 50 years in the Senate.
Irene Inouye, the senator's widow, said he had long advocated for the Fort Shafter command to be a four-star position. "He had believed that this equity with other (nations') commands in the Pacific was critical to our military's position in the Asia-Pacific region," she said. "I know that he would be so pleased this morning."
Brooks said the change "may open a few more doors where the peer-to-peer relationship is eased somewhat. Rank is important. It matters in the protocols around the world."
Brooks said his job will be to make sure other nations and other U.S. services "feel the Army's presence in an increased way." That might mean additional exercises, he said.
Odierno lauded Wiercinski for laying the foundation for the Army's re-balance to the Pacific.
"Your work in advancing regional relationships, notably through unprecedented partnerships and cooperative engagements with Japan and the Republic of Korea, Australia and the People's Republic of China, just to name a few, will be a part of the foundation of the future," Odierno said.
Locklear, the Pacific Command leader, joked that everywhere he traveled, Wiercinski had been there before him.
Wiercinski choked up as he told those assembled, "This morning, as I got prepared to come here today, I realized, this is the last time I'm going to put on this uniform."
"Jeannine is going to have to buy me a wardrobe. I don't know what else to wear," he added with a laugh.