The Army’s shift to the Pacific brought Joint Base Lewis-McChord’s top general deep into Asia this month for a military exercise in landlocked Mongolia.
It was an unusual destination for a JBLM commander even after a couple years of increasing military exchanges between the base south of Tacoma and allies along the Pacific Rim. So far, those exercises have focused on traditional partners such as South Korea, the Philippines, Australia and Japan.
In Mongolia, I Corps Commander Lt. Gen. Stephen Lanza participated in the closing stages of an annual event called Khaan Quest that centered on coaching Mongolian forces for United Nations peacekeeping missions in South Sudan.
“The opportunity to train with foreign armies is priceless,” Lanza said. “We learn from them and they learn from us.”
Khaan Quest is a fairly small exercise involving about 1,000 troops and advisers from 23 nations.
The U.S. sent about 300 military service members. Most of them were Marines or members of the Alaska National Guard. The Washington National Guard sent a small group of citizen soldiers and it has participated in Khaan Quest for the past few years.
Despite its size, Khaan Quest is a prominent event because the exercise brings western troops close to China and its growing military. In 2012, Secretary of the Army John McHugh and Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus visited the exercise.
China and Russia each sent observers to this year’s event. Mendee Jargalsaikhan, a fellow at the East-West Center, wrote in an essay last month the exercise is the only “constructive tactical forum” for NATO militaries to interact with their counterparts in China.
Lanza’s visit precedes a spate of exercises that will take JBLM soldiers of all ranks to exercises in Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia and South Korea before the end of the year.
The base has had an increasing role in the Pacific since the I Corps returned from a deployment to Afghanistan in 2012. The corps now falls under U.S. Army Pacific and the Pentagon’s Navy-led Pacific Command.
Lanza on his visit attended a ceremony dedicating an elementary school that Mongolian and U.S. forces renovated in Mongolia’s capital of Ulaanbaatar. He called it an example of the “cooperation and collaboration” that the Pentagon wants to achieve with Pacific allies as it directs more resources to that part of the world.
“What we leave with after having participated in exercises like Khaan Quest is a greater appreciation of our partners. We gain a personal view that strengthens our relationship,” he said.
Over the past decade, Jargalsaikhan wrote that Khaan Quest helped professionalize Mongolia’s military for missions in Iraq, Afghanistan and in African nations.
“Increased collaboration with the US, through the US Pacific Command and exercises like Khaan Quest, helped Mongolia become a well-known contributor to international peacekeeping operations and brought its military closer to those of the Asia Pacific and NATO members,” he wrote in a piece for the Center for Strategic and International Studies.