In Fort Thanarat, Thailand, soldiers of Company A, 1st Battalion, 21st Infantry Regiment, pile out of UH-60 Black Hawks in the first phase of the combined arms live-fire exercise in May. The soldiers were in Thailand as part of Cobra Gold 2003.

25th Infantry to
maintain Pacific duties

The 25th Infantry Division will maintain long-standing commitments in the Pacific although two-thirds of its soldiers will be in Iraq and Afghanistan, Army officials say.

It's important to maintain these commitments with countries such as South Korea, the Philippines and Japan, and to be ready to respond to emergencies in Asia and the Pacific, military experts say.

Lt. Gen. James Campbell, commanding general of Army forces in the Pacific, said the commitments will be honored, though the number of participating Hawaii soldiers may be smaller than in the past.

"Our Army is at war," the three-star general said in a written statement. "Our absolute top priorities are to support our soldiers and civilians currently deployed, and to prepare those who have been alerted to deploy. While dedicating ourselves to these priorities, we also clearly recognize the need to remain engaged as an active partner with armies in the Asia-Pacific theater."

Campbell added that the Army in the Pacific remains "committed to the exercises and exchanges planned for the upcoming year."

The Army annually participates in nine exercises, including Cobra Gold in Thailand; Yama Sakura, North Wind, Orient Shield and Keen Sword in Japan; Balakitan in the Philippines; and exercises in South Korea and Malaysia. A majority of the combat soldiers are from the 25th Division, the Hawaii Army National Guard and Army Reserve.

"Maintaining these exercises is important because it helps build regional cooperation and interoperability," said Mary Markovinovic, an Army spokeswoman. "When our armies train together during these exercises, they are building relationships and establishing cooperative processes. This is especially important today as the U.S. works side by side with other countries in multinational forces, whether it is in Operation Enduring Freedom or Operation Iraqi Freedom."

In May, more than 1,700 soldiers from the 25th Division and smaller numbers from Fort Richardson in Alaska spent a month in Thailand in the latest Cobra Gold exercise, the premiere multinational exercise in Asia and the Pacific. It included jungle and survival training.

This week, 500 soldiers from the 25th Division's 2nd Battalion, 27th Infantry Regiment -- which will be going to Iraq in February -- will return after spending nearly a month in Japan participating in Orient Shield.

Michael Pavkovic, director of Hawaii Pacific University's diplomacy and military studies program, said although it will be tougher for the Army to participate in those nine exercises next year, it should be able to do so by sending fewer soldiers.

"It's extremely important for the Army to continue this training to maintain our readiness in Asia and the Pacific," Pavkovic said.


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