American forces squaring off against North Korea and strengthening relationships with counterparts in the Chinese military aren't feeling the effects of sequestration cuts, the top U.S. Army general in the Pacific said Monday, leaving the rest of the soldiers covering the world's largest ocean out to sea.
All U.S. military operations and quick-response forces for the Korean peninsula are "fenced," said Army Lt. Gen. Francis Wiercinski, the commanding general of U.S. Army Pacific. This protection for funding also extends to soldiers conducting missions to train alongside their Chinese counterparts, and with other allied and partner countries.
That increases exponentially the toll on the other troops under his command, for whom sequestration cuts will leave slim margins for the rest of the fiscal year, he told reporters at the Pentagon on Monday afternoon.
"The people are there. The equipment is there. It's the ability now to utilize that equipment, to maintain equipment standards, that is where we'll feel the most heat," Wiercinski said of the 79,000 soldiers under his command.
Troops who don't have these priority missions will begin to feel the tightening purse strings around June or July, he said.
In the meanwhile, USARPAC units are trying to keep their edge in safety and training, "so that when things return to a normal state, we can bring them back up to the highest level quickly, and not fall over that edge where we cannot bring them back," he said.
The war rhetoric out of North Korea has died down with the conclusion of the extended U.S.-South Korea war games, Wiercinski says, ending another "cycle of provocation" he has come to expect over his 34 years of service.
U.S. troops can now continue to work with partner nations such as China, which he says no longer poses a threat to American forces.
"Our engagements with disaster management exercises, military medicine, engineering projects - these are all peacekeeping operations," he said of the relationship with China. "These are all excellent opportunities for us to get into 'mil-to-mil' discussions. I can only hope those will continue in the future."
Joint exercises also allows the participating countries to learn about each other, he said, shortening response time if they are forced to cooperate for a real event.
USARPAC's area of operations includes 36 countries, including six of the world's 10 largest armies: China, India, North Korea, South Korea, Vietnam and the U.S. It spans more than 9,000 miles from the west coast of the U.S. to the Indian ocean.