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Pacific troops get new leader

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    Lt. Gen. Francis Wiercinski, left, is taking over command of U.S. Army Pacific from Lt. Gen. Benjamin Mixon. In the middle is host commander Gen. Peter W. Chiarelli; at right is command Sgt. Maj. Frank M. Leota.
    Gen. Francis Wiercinski, left, assumed command of U.S. Army Pacific from Lt. Gen. Benjamin Mixon in a ceremony yesterday at Fort Shafter.
    Cannons fired a salute during the ceremony.

Command of U.S. Army Pacific changed hands yesterday in a ceremony reflecting Fort Shafter’s multifaceted responsibilities, including the crisis in Japan, wars in Iraq and Af­ghani­stan, and relations with Asia-Pacific nations.

Lt. Gen. Benjamin R. “Randy” Mixon, who transferred command to Lt. Gen. Francis J. Wier­cin­ski on the post’s Palm Circle, directed his first comments to two retired Japa­nese Ground Self Defense Force generals and Consul General Yoshi­hiko Kamo who were pres­ent at the ceremony.

Mixon expressed “deep regrets for the tragedy that has occurred in Japan” and added that the U.S. military and people of America “stand behind the people of Japan.”

Wiercinski said after the command transfer that units under U.S. Army Pacific control are part of the evacuation planning for military dependents on Hon­shu island.

“It’s voluntary right now, but we are also helping to coordinate all of that effort,” Wier­cin­ski said.

“We have over 7,000 dependents that are there in Japan. If they all wish to come back, that is a large contingent to be bringing out of the country — and that’s just the Army part of that,” he said.

CNN reported yesterday that the U.S. military is considering the mandatory evacuation of thousands of U.S. troops and their families from Yoko­suka, south of Tokyo, with worries that radioactive particles could blow over Navy bases there.

The Navy is providing potassium iodide for all U.S. military members at Fleet Activities Yoko­suka and Naval Air Facility Atsugi.

Adm. Robert Willard, commander of U.S. Pacific Command at Camp Smith, said last week that plans were drawn up should 87,300 Americans — military and civilians — need to be evacuated from the greater Tokyo area.

Officials in Hawaii said there are about 2,500 U.S. Army soldiers in Japan.

Wiercinski, who was commander of U.S. Army Japan from 2008 to 2010 and was briefly the acting senior commander at Fort Campbell, Ky., said he was in Japan when the recent earthquake hit, “so I’m intimately familiar with just the tragedy that occurred and the sadness of the Japa­nese people.”

Mixon, 58, commanded U.S. Army Pacific since February 2008. Before that he headed up the 25th Infantry Division at Schofield Barracks. During a 2006-07 deployment he oversaw 23,000 U.S. troops in northern Iraq.

On that deployment, Wier­cin­ski was Mixon’s deputy commander and had responsibility for Mosul operations.

Army Vice Chief of Staff Gen. Peter W. Chia­relli told more than 1,500 people at yesterday’s ceremony that Mixon, over a nearly 36-year Army career, commanded a company in the 75th Ranger Regiment, fought in Desert Shield/Desert Storm and led the effort in northern Iraq when Chia­relli was commander of Multi-National Corps-Iraq.

Chiarelli quoted an email from Lt. Gen. David Hun­toon, who knows Mixon, who wrote that “Randy can conduct effective conversations with international counterparts across the vast Pacific and focus with equal capacity on the needs of the families of his deployed soldiers. He’s always been a soldier’s general.”

Gov. Neil Abercrombie and Air Force four-star Gen. Gary North, commander of Pacific Air Forces, were among those in attendance.

Wiercinski said U.S. Army Pacific has provided more than 100,000 soldiers to the wars in Iraq and Af­ghani­stan and other overseas operations, with more than 10,000 deploying last year. About 7,000 from the command have deployed already this year, he said.

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