As a three-star general, Lt. Gen. Benjamin R. "Randy" Mixon could be outspoken — occasionally to his detriment — but he always stayed grounded when it came to his soldiers, those who know him say.
The Army is advising residents and businesses around Fort Shafter that cannon fire will be heard in the area tomorrow morning for the change-of-command ceremony. The cannon fire will begin at about 11:30 a.m. and last about one minute. People are advised to turn off car alarms, which could be set off by vibrations.
Mixon, commander of U.S. Army Pacific, will pass the command to Lt. Gen. Francis J. Wiercinski tomorrow at Fort Shafter and retire May 1 after a nearly 36-year career.
"He’s a very unique soldier," said Allen Hoe, who served as a combat medic in Vietnam and now is a civilian aide to the secretary of the Army. "He’s very quiet, unassuming, but he’s got an incredible record. And I think the thing that makes him very unique and I think why he is endearing to his soldiers is because he is the son of a sergeant major — so he understands and appreciates the young soldiers and what motivates them."
Mixon commands about 3,800 soldiers at Fort Shafter and 62,000 soldiers total in the region.
He took the job in January 2008, after commanding the 25th Infantry Division at Schofield Barracks, which included a 2006-07 deployment in northern Iraq.
The performance of his soldiers during the surge — the buildup of American troops — remains a source of pride.
"That was obviously a very difficult period," he recalled. "Casualties were significant, but we surged up and stayed the 15 months over there."
He made headlines in 2007 in Iraq for saying he didn’t have enough troops for the mission in Diyala province, candidly complained about the inefficiency of the Iraqi government, and said that deployment strain on the military needed to be addressed.
"I think that’s the way you have to deal with the free press," Mixon said. "If there’s something there and it’s true and factual and it’s not going to harm operational requirements — it should be laid out there."
Last year, Mixon drew a Pentagon rebuke when he penned a letter to the editor of Stars and Stripes saying service members should speak up against the "ill-advised" repeal of the "don’t ask, don’t tell" policy.
"I simply reminded them in the article that they had a voice," Mixon said.
Mixon more recently agreed to discontinue efforts to pursue company-size live-fire exercises in Makua Valley, and instead has focused on improving training at Pohakuloa Training Area on the Big Island.
Hoe credits Mixon with improving relations with the Hawaiian community.
"In that regard, I think he’s done remarkably well," Hoe said. "He has kind of helped re-set the stage, if you will, for interaction between the community and the Army."
Mixon’s tenure at U.S. Army Pacific has seen several years of growth.
The 8th Theater Sustainment Command, the 311th Theater Signal Command and the 8th Military Police Brigade were moved to Hawaii. Last May, a $21.5 million design contract was awarded for a 330,000-square-foot Contingency Command Post at Fort Shafter.
The pendulum is now swinging the other way as the Army looks to cut costs, but Mixon said he doesn’t foresee extensive cuts in the command.
"I think our combat brigades of the 25th Division and the enabling commands that we’ve stood up here at U.S. Army Pacific are in pretty good shape," Mixon said. "There may be some minor (budget) trimming on the edges."
He added, "Ultimately, (the Army) will probably have to look at brigade flags and see how many brigades they can actually afford to keep in. All that’s coming down the road. You can sense it."
U.S. Army Pacific extends from Alaska to the Maldives and exercises with Asia-Pacific nations have become an increasing focus. The command conducted 130 engagements over the past year — a 30 percent increase over several years ago — with countries such as Japan, Thailand, India, the Philippines, Indonesia and Malaysia in support of a theater security cooperation strategy, Mixon said.
Mixon said he and his wife, Rhonda, are looking at a move to Florida. Mixon said he may work for a nonprofit and plans to get involved working on conservative social issues.
The change of command ceremony is scheduled at 11 a.m. tomorrow at historic Palm Circle.