Top 10 U.S. commanders in the Pacific you should know

You may have paid attention to Secretary of State John Kerry as he toured North Korea’s doorstep, visiting Beijing, Seoul, and Tokyo. But can you name the Pacific commanders who are standing watch, facing Pyongyang? 1. Adm. Samuel Locklear, Pacific Command commander. Locklear is the top-ranking U.S. officer in Pacific Command, the largest of the ...

U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Tiarra Fulgham/Released
U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Tiarra Fulgham/Released
U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Tiarra Fulgham/Released

You may have paid attention to Secretary of State John Kerry as he toured North Korea’s doorstep, visiting Beijing, Seoul, and Tokyo. But can you name the Pacific commanders who are standing watch, facing Pyongyang?

1. Adm. Samuel Locklear, Pacific Command commander. Locklear is the top-ranking U.S. officer in Pacific Command, the largest of the U.S. military’s 13 so-called combatant commands. He is responsible for all U.S. troops in the Pacific region and Asia. As the top dog in the region’s chain of command, Locklear tells the Pentagon what he needs and the Joint Chiefs goes and gets it for him -- like deploying two additional Navy destroyers in the Western Pacific for anti-ballistic missile defense against North Korea, for example.

2. Gen. James D. Thurman, commander of U.S. Forces Korea, United Nations Command, and Republic of Korea-U.S. Combined Forces Command. Thurman is the four-star general in charge of all U.S. and multinational -- or what the military calls “combined” -- troops on the Korean Peninsula, a three-hatted job. In other words, Thurman commands the first line of defense against a North Korean invasion into the South. Thurman has remained on station through the current crisis, skipping a planned visit to Washington to testify in three different congressional hearings, and instead issuing his own strong warnings to Pyongyang. ““He’s trying to intimidate the South Koreans and intimidate the region, and we're not gonna let that happen,” he said of Kim Jong Un.

You may have paid attention to Secretary of State John Kerry as he toured North Korea’s doorstep, visiting Beijing, Seoul, and Tokyo. But can you name the Pacific commanders who are standing watch, facing Pyongyang?

1. Adm. Samuel Locklear, Pacific Command commander. Locklear is the top-ranking U.S. officer in Pacific Command, the largest of the U.S. military’s 13 so-called combatant commands. He is responsible for all U.S. troops in the Pacific region and Asia. As the top dog in the region’s chain of command, Locklear tells the Pentagon what he needs and the Joint Chiefs goes and gets it for him — like deploying two additional Navy destroyers in the Western Pacific for anti-ballistic missile defense against North Korea, for example.

2. Gen. James D. Thurman, commander of U.S. Forces Korea, United Nations Command, and Republic of Korea-U.S. Combined Forces Command. Thurman is the four-star general in charge of all U.S. and multinational — or what the military calls “combined” — troops on the Korean Peninsula, a three-hatted job. In other words, Thurman commands the first line of defense against a North Korean invasion into the South. Thurman has remained on station through the current crisis, skipping a planned visit to Washington to testify in three different congressional hearings, and instead issuing his own strong warnings to Pyongyang. ““He’s trying to intimidate the South Koreans and intimidate the region, and we’re not gonna let that happen,” he said of Kim Jong Un.

3. Adm. Cecil D. Haney, Pacific Fleet commander. Haney (pictured above) is the top naval officer in the Pacific, which means he oversees roughly 50 U.S. ships deployed at sea each day as Washington implements its strategic “pivot” to Asia. He also has substantial experience relevant to countering the North Korean nuclear threat. He previously was the deputy commander of U.S. Strategic Command (STRATCOM), the military’s chain of command over nuclear weapons, and before that he was director of Submarine Warfare division, under the chief naval officer in the Pentagon. Haney commanded the nuclear-powered, Los Angeles-class, fast-attack submarine USS Honolulu in the 1990s. In addition to countering the North Korean threat, as PACFLEET commander Haney is in charge of keeping sea lanes open across the Pacific, where the Navy’s first littoral combat ship, the USS Freedom, has just arrived, as well as responding to natural disasters. At the South Korean naval academy in February, Haney warned the young graduates to “anticipate surprise” from the North. “If you are surprised, stay calm, think through your options and act wisely.”

4. Lt. Gen. Frank Wiercinski, commanding general, U.S. Army, Pacific. Wiercinski, commander of all soldiers in the Pacific, has perhaps more combat experience than any senior U.S. military officer in the region — most of which was in the desert. He was a Ranger battalion commander during Operation Just Cause in Panama; a brigade combat team commander in Afghanistan; and deputy commanding general of coalition forces in Iraq’s north at the start of the U.S. surge, in 2006 and 2007. In Washington, Wiercinski has served on the J3 (special operations) division in the Joint Staff and later was principal director for Near East-South Asian affairs for Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. Wiercinski will have the distinction of being the last three-star general to command USARPAC. This year, President Obama upgraded the Hawaii-based command to a four-star position, a move intended to show the military’s seriousness about the Asia pivot. It also takes over many logistical and command duties from Army forces on the Korean Peninsula, freeing them up to focus on North Korea. "Their possession of potential nuclear weapons and continued erratic behavior — including open threats of nuclear attack against South Korea, Japan and the United States — must be taken extremely seriously. Let me assure you that we are vigilant, we are monitoring that situation daily, and we are prepared."

5. Gen. Herbert J. "Hawk" Carlisle is Commander, Pacific Air Forces. As commander of the Air Force’s component of Pacific Command since August, Carlisle is in charge of 45,000 airmen. Carlisle spent the past decade rotating between Alaska, Hawaii, and Washington, where he last was the Air Force’s deputy chief of staff for operations, plans and requirements and previously ran the Air Force secretary’s legislation liaison shop. He has commanded 13th Air Force out of Hawaii, and flown F-15s and C-17s, among other aircraft. PACAF manages Pacific Command’s fleet of B-1, B-2, and B-52 bombers, based in Guam, including the B-52 that performed a show-of-force training flight over South Korea in March.

6. Lt. Gen. Terry Robling, commander, U.S. Marine Corps Forces, Pacific. Robling is a seasoned commander with extensive experience in the Pacific, Washington, and war zones. He now is now presiding over an expansion of Marines across the Pacific, including additional battalions to be forward deployed in Korea as a jumping off point for increased training with Asian militaries. Previously Robling was the deputy commandant of the Marine Corps for aviation, and he commanded the Pacific-oriented III Marine Expeditionary Force — read as “Three mehf” — including all U.S. Marines on Japan. He has weaved in and out of field commands and policy work, as director of strategy and plans for the Marine Corps in Washington, working for NATO in Italy, and as an air wing commander in Iraq.  

7. Air Force Lt. Gen. Salvatore A. "Sam" Angelella, commander, U.S. Forces Japan. As the senior military commander in Japan, Salvatore is managing the defense of the island nation as well as one of the most important bilateral military relationships the U.S. has in the Pacific. He also has prodded Japan and South Korean forces to overcome historical animosities and territorial disputes, given their shared concerns about China’s regional power and direct threats from North Korea. Angelellla is an F-16 combat pilot groomed for senior leadership, working on staff at the Pentagon’s Joint Staff, NATO headquarters, and PACOM.  

8. Air Force Maj. Gen. Norman J. Brozenick, Jr., commander Special Operations Command, Pacific. The rising importance on special operations forces across the military extends into the Pacific, where Brozenick maintains units in Japan, Guam, and the Philippines. A combat pilot of MC-130 cargo planes used to insert SOF forces into hostile zones, Brozenick is a former assistant commanding general of Joint Special Operation Command, and has logged time on the Joint Staff in Washington.

9. Lt. Gen. Stephen L. Hoog, commander, U.S. Alaskan Command. Hoog, an F-16 and F-22 combat pilot, has the watch over all military responsibilities and more than 21,000 troops across Alaska who could deploy to Pacific. That includes directing a U.S. military response to incoming threats to the homeland, thoug
h launching Alaska’s ground-based interceptors are the purview of U.S. Northern Command (see below).  Hoog previously commanded the 9th Air Force, out of South Carolina, and was deputy commander of the Air Force component of Central Command.

10. Gen. Charles “Chuck” Jacoby, commander, North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) and U.S. Northern Command (NORTHCOM). NORAD may be far from the Pacific Ocean, but at Peterson Air Force Base in Colorado, Jacoby has eyes fixed on the very real threat of a North Korean long-range missile — possibly one fitted with a nuclear weapon — heading toward the U.S. or its allies. Jacoby drew notice this year for telling the Senate that North Korea’s missile development “proceeded at a pace faster than we had anticipated.” Jacoby has kept a low profile at NORAD, but is fairly well known in military circles for his time as Multi-National Corps-Iraq commander, the day-to-day operations commander of all troops in Iraq toward the end of the war under then-war commander Gen. Ray Odierno. After Iraq, Jacoby was called to the Pentagon to serve as the important J5, or director of strategy, plans, and policy, on the Joint Staff, and quickly was given his fourth star and the NORAD/NORTHCOM command. Jacoby also was deputy commander of U.S. Alaskan Command.

Kevin Baron is a national security reporter for Foreign Policy, covering defense and military issues in Washington. He is also vice president of the Pentagon Press Association. Baron previously was a national security staff writer for National Journal, covering the "business of war." Prior to that, Baron worked in the resident daily Pentagon press corps as a reporter/photographer for Stars and Stripes. For three years with Stripes, Baron covered the building and traveled overseas extensively with the secretary of defense and chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, covering official visits to Afghanistan and Iraq, the Middle East and Europe, China, Japan and South Korea, in more than a dozen countries. From 2004 to 2009, Baron was the Boston Globe Washington bureau's investigative projects reporter, covering defense, international affairs, lobbying and other issues. Before that, he muckraked at the Center for Public Integrity. Baron has reported on assignment from Asia, Africa, Australia, Europe, the Middle East and the South Pacific. He was won two Polk Awards, among other honors. He has a B.A. in international studies from the University of Richmond and M.A. in media and public affairs from George Washington University. Originally from Orlando, Fla., Baron has lived in the Washington area since 1998 and currently resides in Northern Virginia with his wife, three sons, and the family dog, The Edge. Twitter: @FPBaron

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