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Australian general fills vital Fort Shafter position

By Audrey McAvoy / Associated Press


Maj. Gen. Richard Burr salutes with his palm facing out, like he's shielding his eyes from the sun. He wears a wide-brimmed felt "slouch hat" with a brown and green camouflage uniform.

The two-star general in the Australian Defence Force stands out amid the American soldiers donning berets and green and beige fatigues at the U.S. Army's headquarters for the Pacific at Fort Shafter. But he's responsible for directing their training and exercises as U.S. Army Pacific's deputy commander for operations.

The Army is also making Burr its liaison to New Zealand, his homeland Australia and countries in Southeast Asia.

Burr's appointment — it's the first time a non-American has served in such a high-ranking position at a command like this — symbolizes the Army's push to connect more with allies and friendly nations in the Pacific as it implements the Obama administration's policy to "re-balance" national defense strategy toward the region.

Burr reports to Lt. Gen. Francis Wier­cin­ski, a three-star general and U.S. Army Pacific's top commander since 2011. Wier­cin­ski is responsible for most U.S. soldiers in the region, except those in South Korea.

Burr said his presence in Hawaii tells others the U.S. Army is open to broadening its relationships.

"I think it sends a very positive message to all countries in the region — not just our two countries — that stronger partnerships is really the way to go," Burr said in an interview Wednesday, a month after arriving in Hawaii for the new job. "And building from bilateral to multilateral partnerships is the key to a stronger, more stable region."

The position reflects a deepening of an already close relationship between the United States and Australia, two nations that fought together in World War II and whose alliance was formalized by treaty in 1951.

More recently, Australia sent troops to fight alongside the U.S. in Af­ghani­stan and Iraq, even when those decisions were unpopular with voters at home.

Burr was among the deployed. He commanded Australian troops in Af­ghani­stan in 2002 and during the invasion of Iraq the following year. In 2008 he commanded all coalition special forces — including Americans — in Af­ghani­stan.

The 49-year-old said these experiences mean Americans know him, and know he takes the responsibility of commanding U.S. troops seriously. This helps the U.S. feel comfortable placing him in such a critical position.

"This is quite unique," he said. "You're sort of letting someone in to look in your undies drawer. You want to have trust."

So far, Burr has been to Japan, where he partnered with a Japa­nese general to run an annual U.S.-Japa­nese exercise called Yama Sakura. Soon he'll go to Thailand to do a similar job for the Cobra Gold exercise involving seven nations: Thailand, the U.S., Singapore, Japan, Indonesia, South Korea and Malaysia. Australia will send an observer.

Burr said it's good to have people from different militaries work together daily so they're already used to each other when they have to respond to a natural disaster or go into combat. Nations tend to act as a multinational coalition, whether to deliver humanitarian assistance or send troops to fight, he said.

"My personal view is the more you can organize and practice that in a day-to-day sense, the better you will be at responding to those challenges, which usually happen at short notice," he said.

Ralph Cossa, president of the Pacific Forum CSIS think tank, said putting a foreign officer in the direct line of command shows "unprecedented closeness."

Denny Roy, a senior fellow at the East-West Center in Hono­lulu, said Australia has long partnered with major powers holding similar values — first Britain and now the U.S. — to influence the much more populous, sometimes dangerous, economically larger world to its north.

Burr's appointment shows Australia is firmly in the inner circle of U.S. allies. Being there helps Australia influence its partnership with the U.S. and have its voice heard. It also gives Australia access to the latest intelligence and helps it understand how the U.S. thinks and acts.

"Australia is in," Roy said. "Australia ought to take this as a very positive vote of confidence and signal of strong partnership between the U.S. and Australia," he said.

Burr said he looks forward to taking in Hawaii's water sports during the couple of years he expects to be in Hawaii, such as diving, kayaking and surfing. He's already tried stand-up paddling.

"Despite coming from Australia, I'm not a surfer," he said. "But I will be by the time I leave."

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MalamaKaAina wrote:
"Shoot straight, you b@@tards! Don't make a mess of it!" — Last words of Harry 'Breaker' Harbord Morant, said to his firing squad, 27 February 1902
on February 4,2013 | 01:07AM
bender wrote:
I was under the impression that the United States did not put their troops under the command of foreigners, no matter how strong of an ally they might be.That certainly was a sticking point during WW2.
on February 4,2013 | 05:00AM
Ronin006 wrote:
Bender, he is DEPUTY commander.
on February 4,2013 | 07:34AM
Ronin006 wrote:
Bender, he is DEPUTY commander.
on February 4,2013 | 11:06AM
fshnpoi wrote:
i understand the palm facing out during saluting..i can't understand how a 3 star general can't hold a basic hand salute correctly!
on February 4,2013 | 11:10AM
localguy wrote:
And you have experience saluting?
on February 4,2013 | 12:30PM
oxtail01 wrote:
High ranked career military bureaucrats suck the life blood out of the military for their own personal gains, depriving the REAL soldiers of deserved benefits. The military is a bloated, corrupt organization, like much of rest of our government agencies who wasted billions of our money to sustain a military-industrial complex that feeds off the blood of our soldiers and innocent civilians to maintain their greedy ways. America is now a nation built on killing and developing methods of mass destruction. Our economy is dependent on sustaining wars and fears of war. We parade around all these high ranking puppets as proof of our "peaceful" missions while at the same time spending every day thinking about where and how blood money can be justified and spent. ENOUGH - lets stop this madness!
on February 4,2013 | 12:49PM
Ronin006 wrote:
oxtail01, it might do you some good if you think before you comment or better yet, learn a little bit about how the government works. Every military department is headed by a civilian appointed by another civilian, namely the President of the United States who serves as the military’s Commander-in-Chief. Civilians make all the decisions regarding force structure, weapon systems and equipment, pay and benefits and the like, civilians decided which generals and admirals get promoted to four-star and serve in the highest positions in each service, and civilians decided when and where the military goes to war. Your uninformed comments suggest you believe the military brass does it all on their own.
on February 4,2013 | 04:08PM
Anonymous wrote:
Both oxtai101's comment (just above) and Ronin006's comment (just below) are well-conceived. It's true - there are way too many admirals and generals. Can one make that assertion at a confidence level of 100% that it's true? No. Only around a confidence level of 90-95%.
on February 5,2013 | 10:45AM
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