DENNIS ODA / DODA@STARBULLETIN.COM
Lt. Gen. Benjamin Mixon, a new three-star general, assumed command Friday from Lt. Gen. John Brown of U.S. Army Pacific in a ceremony at Fort Shafter. During the ceremony, Mixon, left; Adm. Timothy Keating, commander, U.S. Pacific Command; Col. Jeffrey Jarkowsky, Army Pacific chief of staff; and Brown reviewed the troops.
Mixon takes new command
Five days after pinning on his third star, Lt. Gen. Benjamin Mixon will leave the islands this week to tour his new command of more than 45,500 soldiers, reservists and civilians in Alaska, Japan and the Pacific.
Mixon, who stepped down as the commanding general of the 25th Infantry Division after 212 years on Wednesday, recently told reporters that one of his other priorities will be to provide trained Army forces for Adm. Timothy Keating, the overall U.S. commander in the Pacific.
"Coupled with that will be an active engagement with all the militaries in the region," working closely with them on security issues, Mixon added.
On Friday, Mixon, 54, relieved Lt. Gen. John Brown as the commanding general of 31,000 active-duty soldiers and 7,500 Army reservists who live in Hawaii, Alaska, Japan and the Pacific. The only soldiers in Asia not covered by Mixon's new command are those on the Korean peninsula.
The new three-star general believes that the Army's fifth Stryker Combat Brigade Team should be stationed at Schofield Barracks once it returns from Iraq next year.
"I believe that it is essential that the Stryker brigade be in Hawaii because of its strategic location," Mixon said.
The Army is now studying a court-mandated environmental study on the impact of locating the brigade, which is developed around 328 eight-wheeled, 20-ton combat vehicles, in Hawaii, Alaska or Colorado. In 2006, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the Army violated environmental laws by not considering locations other than Hawaii.
Mixon said he believes "very strongly" that the Army "can work with the concerned groups to find some sort of middle ground."
"It is the same sort of middle ground that we find to make sure that we have tourism in Hawaii, to make sure that we have growth for new homes in Hawaii," he said. "In the Army in Hawaii and throughout the world, the Army has a very active environmental program. We have a very active cultural program.
"We are required by law to ensure we protect the environment and that we protect the cultural things that may be on our installations."
Mixon added: "I believe we can train here. We can live here. We can work and become viable members of the community if we work together."
Mixon said he also will concentrate his efforts on the task molding his Fort Shafter headquarters into a tactical one that can deploy anywhere in the Pacific to direct a ground war for Keating. The Army says the deployable headquarters unit will have 1,050 soldiers.
As for the situation in Iraq, Mixon, who commanded 23,000 U.S. soldiers in northern Iraq for 15 months last year, said "policy decisions will have to be made to consider how we will stay in Iraq for the long term."
He added: "We need a long-term commitment to Iraq and the region. We are going to have to figure how we are going to sustain that long-term commitment."
The general said he believes the U.S. will have upwards of 50,000 troops in Iraq over the next several years because of the need to help the Iraqis develop their own security force.
As to how many of the 135,000 U.S. troops in Iraq can be rotated out of Iraq immediately, Mixon said that decision will have to be made by Gen. David Petraeus, the overall commander in Iraq, based on the economic, political and military situation.
That decision will affect not only how often soldiers will be rotated into Iraq, but also how long they will be at home.
"I am very concerned about that because of the strain it has placed on our Army and our other forces," he said.
Mixon's comments reflected the debate now taking place at the Pentagon as military planners struggle to balance the demands of the Iraq war against the competing demands to recruit, train and retain a robust and growing ground force.
Mixon pointed out that Gen. George Casey, Army chief of staff, has expressed his concern on the overall health of the Army, noting "it is now out of balance."
"We need to put it in balance so we can meet the strategic goals of the United States, but at the same time ensure that we have an Army, Marine Corps and other forces that can meet all of our strategic requirements throughout the world," Mixon said.
Commenting on the quick turnaround facing the 3,000 soldiers in the 3rd Brigade Combat Team and 1,000 in the 25th Division's headquarters, which is slated to return to Iraq in November, Mixon said frequent combat deployments places a strain on families.
"We are concerned because we need adequate training time back at home station," he added.
"There are other stresses we are beginning to see that we are all concerned about. We have seen a rise in suicides in the Army. Some of this can be attributed to Iraq, some of it to other stressers."
Mixon said the Army has programs to address these issues.
Although Mixon declined to comment presidential election, he did say: "No matter who is elected president, it is clear that we have a terrorist threat. It is worldwide in its nature and focus and is intent on attacking the way of life that we love and appreciate in the United States and around the world.
"So whoever is elected will be faced with the challenge of dealing with a worldwide terrorist threat."