In the last weeks of November, I Corps Commander Lt. Gen. Stephen Lanza has had a schedule that encapsulates the competing priorities for his 26,000 soldiers stationed at Joint Base Lewis-McChord.
On one hand, Lanza is charged with helping the Army influence growing military forces throughout East Asia. After all, JBLM is the Army’s largest base on the Pacific Rim.
Last week, he closed out an exchange that brought ground-level Chinese soldiers to JBLM for a week-long event. He will soon travel to Japan for an annual military exercise rehearsing how the U.S. and Japan might respond if another nation attacks a Japanese island.
On the other hand, Lanza still has an eye on the Middle East and Afghanistan. The Iraq veteran spent Thanksgiving in Afghanistan with local soldiers deployed to the war.
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The News Tribune reached Lanza on his way to the airport to talk about how the Army is balancing its renewed emphasis on East Asia — what President Barack Obama has called “the Pacific pivot” — with ongoing operations in conflict zones.
Q: You came to JBLM after spending much of your career focused on the Middle East. The issues unfolding in East Asia are serious, but they’re not the kind of immediate crises we see in Iraq and Syria. How do you keep attention on the Pacific?
A: We are both a globally responsive force and a regionally aligned force. So long as other activities are going on in the world, the corps stands ready to meet them. That said, our focus is on the Pacific.
These operations in the Pacific with our partners and allies do help us. With the Chinese last week, we set conditions for de-escalation and to avoid conflict or miscalculation.
I’d rather partner with them, engage them, than have a military miscalculation in the Pacific.
Lt. Gen. Stephen Lanza on an exchange with the Chinese military
Q: Are there enough resources to manage the Pacific operations and continue sending troops to the Middle East?
A: I have not heard concerns about resources. My concern in the future is the resources for preparedness as we conduct the drawdown. Do we have the resources to conduct a multitude of missions across a multitude of contingencies? There are a lot of things we made assumptions about a couple years ago that did not pan out, as you see with ISIS.
Q: Japan has increased its defense spending for the past four years and in September it lifted longstanding restrictions on its army that would allow it to support allies if they’re attacked. How do those changes effect the U.S.-Japan alliance?
What I’ve seen is a different way they’re conducting their operations. I’ve seen more integration of their forces, a joint focus. More importantly, it’s how they want to train with U.S. forces. There’s a desire to do more of this in the interim, in between these exercises that take place once a year.
Q: How would you describe changes in the Japanese Self Defense Force since you came to JBLM as 7th Infantry Division commander three years ago and worked with them at the Yakima Training Center?
The interoperability we’ve had since I’ve been here has grown. I’ve seen that growth with the different (Japanese) armies we work with. They’re also standing up a ground component command that we will be tied to. They’re great partners and allies.
Q: What’s the focus of this year’s exercise?
A: It will be about defending some notional (fictional) territories against a notional force, improving readiness, the training of our forces, being able to work as a combined force.
(The Japanese general leading the exercise) this year is using the Japanese word “wa,” which means harmony. This is about our forces working in harmony.
Q: You say notional territories. Is that an island or a mainland exercise?
A: Island. There will be some notional enemy and these islands will of course be contested, and it’ll be about the security of Japan as a sovereign nation. And then it will shift to stability operations, keeping the peace.
An annual exercise linking the Japanese and American armies this year will mimic how they’d retake a Japanese island from an invading force.
Q: What has the Army learned about getting soldiers out across the ocean since it began Pacific Pathways, the exercises that send soldiers to East Asia for deployment-style rehearsals? How will we see I Corps build on that next year?
A: We’re going to continue our Pacific Pathways. This enhances readiness. It enhances our ability to conduct rehearsals and really sustain our relationships with our partners.
What we’re doing is mutually reinforcing for the Marines. They’re the first responders in the Pacific.
You’ll see more Pacific Pathways and more of a dynamic approach, and more of what the Army is able to do.
Q: I had a lot of reader feedback from my story about the I Corps exchange with the Chinese People’s Liberation Army, mostly from people who were concerned about Chinese soldiers visiting an American military base. What did you take away from that event?
A: I had never experienced that before. When you get past the culture and the language, there’s a common discussion among militaries, as military professionals.
I’d rather partner with them, engage them, than have a military miscalculation in the Pacific. We want to find more of what we have in common and build on that.
The TNT goes to East Asia
News Tribune military reporter Adam Ashton spent three weeks in Japan and Guam this summer on a McClatchy project exploring what President Barack Obama has called the “Pacific pivot.” Ashton has also written extensively the past few years about how JBLM troops are part of the pivot, shifting much of their attention from Iraq and Afghanistan to East Asia partnerships.
About this series
Sunday (Nov. 22): U.S. military reconfigures its Pacific war machine.
Monday: Stalemate over Marines on Okinawa persists, decades after deal to close base.
Tuesday: New Boeing jet sweeps Pacific Ocean for submarines, intelligence.
Wednesday: Wartime memories shape veteran’s opposition to Japan’s new military buildup.
Thursday: Military families enjoy overseas postings.
Today: JBLM commander talks about Pacific shift.
Saturday: Endangered symbol of anti-military movement may already be gone.
Sunday (Nov. 29): Guam quietly slated to become massive new U.S. base.