FORT MAGSAYSAY, Philippines (April 29, 2015) – Army Secretary John M. McHugh met with Soldiers, of the 2nd Stryker Brigade Combat Team, or 2SBCT, 25th Infantry Division, here, April 25, to discuss the important role they perform when partnering with international allies.
The meeting comes at the tail end of a three-month, three-country tour known as Pacific Pathways, which led 2SBCT, based out of Schofield Barracks, Hawaii, through three partnered training exercises.
The brigade, first deployed to Thailand in late January for the three-week Exercise Cobra Gold, followed by six weeks in South Korea engaging with its army during Exercise Foal Eagle. It then arrived in the Philippines in early April for the annual Exercise Balikatan – now in its 31st year.
In a small group roundtable meeting with brigade leaders, McHugh received feedback regarding the three-month exercise and whether combining the three exercises provided benefits that outweigh conducting three individual exercises. In a time of budget constraints, the Army is evaluating how to get the most from its training budget.
McHugh emphasized the benefit of U.S. Soldiers having a presence in their partner nations and setting a good example. He said he would like a similar exercise concept expanded to more countries.
“You are the best ambassadors the U.S. has,” McHugh said. “If you look at what we did in Europe, sending a company of just 200 Soldiers on a tour through eastern European countries – they were able to change the mood of entire countries. They established real relationships of trust.”
Pfc. Feliger Ursulum, a civil affairs specialist in the Armed Forces Philippines, said that his experience with the visiting U.S. forces has had a positive impact on the Filipino soldiers and on the local population.
“The interactions I have had during [Exercise] Balikatan have been very good,” Ursulum said. “I wish the exercises were longer.”
Many leaders within the Stryker Brigade identified the benefits their experiences here have had on their own Soldiers.
“We have a lot of Soldiers entering our ranks that don’t have deployment experience and I think that when they’re here and they’re executing they get to see the big picture and the “why,” said Capt. Savannah Livingston, Company Commander of Headquarters & Headquarters Company, 2nd Battalion, 25th Aviation Regiment. “They get to see the impact they have all the way down to the youngest Soldiers, and how important it is the role that they play.”
McHugh identified key goals of Pacific Pathways as to increase readiness and develop our partnerships.
“We’re likely to go to war in the future with multiple partners of varying degrees of capabilities,” McHugh said. “It’s much better to work through those knots and kinks in this environment than trying to figure it out after deploying. It makes for a better Army.”
McHugh’s stay included visits to several training events, including watching engineers of the Philippine army use techniques taught by its American counterparts to apply a concrete charge to blow an entry hole in a block wall. After a successful (and massive) blast, dozens of U.S. and Filipino Service members joined in a sprint to the site of the blast to stomp out small grass fires.
After being joined by the U.S. Ambassador to the Philippines Philip Goldberg, the assembly moved on to meet with U.S. and Filipino Special Forces units and viewed a sniper exhibition by the Light Reaction Regiment of the Filipino Army’s Special Operation Forces.