Perkins cites GSDF development as source of pride
By VINCE LITTLE | STARS AND STRIPES Published: June 30, 2007
CAMP ZAMA, Japan — Gen. Douglas MacArthur. Maj. Gen. Elbert N. Perkins.
Only MacArthur has been commanding general of U.S. Army Japan longer than Perkins, who is slated to retire Monday following a 35-year career. He took over the job in June 2003 and also became deputy 1st Corps commander and head of its forward headquarters element here last December.
In his customary unassuming way, Perkins downplayed the comparison.
"Well, it’s an interesting conversation topic, but it doesn’t go much beyond that," he said. "It’s been a privilege to be able to serve my country and the Japanese for a period of five years."
Also on Monday, he’ll turn over the leadership posts to Brig. Gen. Francis J. Wiercinski during a change-of-command ceremony scheduled for 10:30 a.m. at Rambler Field. If it rains, the event will be moved into the Yano Fitness Center.
Wiercinski arrives from Fort Shafter, Hawaii, where he’d served as U.S. Army Pacific deputy commander since early January. Prior to that, he spent 15 months as the deputy commanding general (support) for Multi-National Division North in Iraq.
Following Monday’s ceremony, Perkins and his wife, Sungae, plan to settle down around Savannah, Ga.
Last Thursday, he sat down with Stars and Stripes to discuss a range of issues, including realignment, USARJ deployments in the war on terrorism and progress within Japan’s Ground Self-Defense Force. Following are excerpts from that interview:
There have been several changes within your command in the last five years — the 9th Theater Support Command was deactivated, 1st Corps (Forward) arrived, and plans were made for the JGSDF’s Central Readiness Force to move here by 2012. How will transformation benefit not only USARJ but also the U.S.-Japan security alliance?
One of the more significant items to come out of the Defense Policy Review Initiative was the initiative to move the Central Readiness Force from Camp Asaka to Camp Zama, to be collocated with elements of 1st Corps. Since they will be in near proximity to each other, the natural tendency is for them to train together, exercise together and work together, which will only serve to enhance interoperability between the U.S. Army and the Japanese Ground Self-Defense Force.
What do you consider some other major accomplishments during your time here?
The development of the (GSDF) in such a rapid period of time. … In the past, most of their exercises were scripted by timelines and events on certain days to ensure that victory was achieved when all the very important people were visiting. But today, it’s a totally free-play training event, in which the (opposing force) has the ability to think and to maneuver and execute at will and cause the "friendly forces" to react, plan and adapt, and to learn to be more agile and flexible. ... The other thing that occurred in the last couple years is the (GSDF) appointed their first sergeant major of the Army equivalent, and we’re now on the second one. And they have instituted a command sergeant major program.
What were the greatest challenges USARJ faced during your tenure?
I consider some of the things that we’ve worked on as opportunities versus challenges. Developing the plan for the activation of 1st Corps (Forward) and actually working our way through all of that with U.S. Army Pacific and the Department of the Army … so that we could formally activate the organization and ensure that we’re going to get the people and equipment that we needed has probably been the greatest opportunity that we’ve had.
Given the stresses of Army rotations to Iraq and Afghanistan, and the quick turnarounds many units face, will USARJ soldiers or units be tapped more often to deploy in the war on terrorism?
We have been providing individual augmentees to the effort for the entire time that I’ve been here. We currently have [about] 40 personnel deployed on individual requirements today. There have been some small detachments from USARJ that have been deployed as units, but I don’t foresee — because of the nature of the units that are here — any large organizations being deployed anytime in the near future.
How do you think the Army’s year-plus deployments are affecting soldiers’ morale and the Army overall, considering other military branches are tasked to go downrange for shorter stints?
It’s a little bit out of my area of focus, since my primary concern has been with soldiers located here with the U.S. Army in Japan. And we have not experienced any significant deployments or rotations of units. Overall, morale here in Japan is very good. In the second quarter of the fiscal year, we’ve already met our re-enlistment goal for the year. And if re-enlistment is a measure of morale for soldiers throughout the Army, the Army is doing very well. From my perspective on the outside observing units, I think that soldiers appreciate the challenge of what they’re doing today and enjoy the opportunity to serve their country and are re-enlisting in historic numbers. So I would say that overall, morale is pretty good.
Is there any chance you’ll re-enter public service as a civilian?
I’m not looking for employment very hard. I am certainly interested in doing some military consultant or senior observer kind of work if it were to come along. I would certainly entertain the opportunity to continue to train soldiers, leaders and organizations. … [But] my primary focus in the near future anyway is to spend some time with my family … and relax a little bit.
Anything you’d like to add about your time in Japan or the future of USARJ?
I think the biggest takeaway for me … has been the people of Japan, not only those officers and soldiers in the (GSDF), but our Japanese employees here in U.S. Army Japan and also the members of the local communities. I’ve been very impressed with their professional work ethic, and their warmth and friendliness that they display to us at all times.