Washington, DC – Partnership, coalition building, joint and combined exercises: These are the terms that Marine Corps Sgt. Maj. Anthony A. Spadaro uses when talking about his command — US Pacific Command. “Our area goes from Bollywood to Hollywood and polar bears to penguins,” Spadaro said during an early April interview at the Pentagon.
Spadaro is the senior enlisted leader for Pacom, which has an area of responsibility that encompasses 52 percent of the globe.
It is a region of superlatives, and the sergeant major can tick them off. The region has six of the top 10 economies in the world, seven of the 10 largest armies, the two largest countries by population, five nuclear nations, five US treaty allies, and the list goes on. “Our area goes from Bollywood to Hollywood and polar bears to penguins,” Spadaro said during an April 10 interview at the Pentagon.
And the threats are outsized, too, the sergeant major said. North Korea, with its nuclear program and unpredictable leader is a threat. China building military islands in the South China Sea is a threat. Russia is asserting itself in the Pacific and the groups espousing the extremist ideology of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria are looking for areas to grow in the Asia-Pacific region.
“The American presence in Pacom has allowed the economies to grow and flourish,” Spadaro said. The grey ships of the US Pacific Fleet, the joint force defending South Korea, the Marine expeditionary units ready to provide aid or fight as needed, or the sleek and stealthy Air Force bombers that provide such deterrence, show the United States is ready and engaged.
Engagement With Partners
“When I got this job, [Navy] Adm. [Harry B.] Harris [the Pacom commander] told me to focus on one thing — partnership,” Spadaro said. “The [senior enlisted leaders] of the component commands are doing a great job with their services. He wanted me to reach out to the senior military leaders of the region.”
The United States is committed to the 36 partner nations in the Asia-Indo-Pacific region, he said. “We are going to remain invigorated and demonstrate this commitment,” the sergeant major said.
But, as big as it is, Pacom does not operate in a vacuum. The nature of the threats facing the United States and its allies are trans-regional and occur in all domains. Harris is in constant contact with Washington and his fellow combatant commanders, and sets the tone for the command, Spadaro said.
“He sets the strategy and direction for the area and I am one of his ‘intended emissaries,’” Spadaro said. “Part of the elements of national power, is getting the message across. This doesn’t mean just to soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines, but to our partners, as well. And that is a big part of my job.
The fight against ISIS illustrates the point, he said, noting the main fight against the terror group is in US Central Command’s area.
“As Centcom has more and more success against ISIS, the terror group is being squeezed and they are looking to escape,” Spadaro said. “They are looking to hide in the countries with large Muslim populations in our [area of operations].”
The command is looking ahead, the sergeant major said. It is working with Centcom, US Africa Command, US Strategic Command and US Northern Command as well as the intelligence agencies to root out and eliminate the terrorist threat. “We have to eliminate ISIS,” he said. “If they are coming into the Pacom [area of responsibility], you have to have alliances, partnerships and friendships.”
Partnership-building has been a generational job, Spadaro said. One showcase for that work, he said, is the growing relationship between Malaysia, Singapore and Indonesia. Each of the three nations had military-to-military relationships with the United States, but had never worked together. Today, they are cooperating against piracy and terrorism, and the Philippines is joining the effort.
The relationship bore fruit last year, Spadaro said, when security forces from Indonesia and Singapore cooperated to break up a plot to launch a terror attack in Singapore from inside Indonesia.
Partnership building efforts are also underway in Sri Lanka, which recently emerged from a brutal and lengthy civil war, the sergeant major said. Last year, the island nation established the Sri Lankan Marine Corps using the US Marine Corps as a model. The first class of Sri Lankan Marines graduated February 27.
“We will work with them in the months and years ahead to build that capability,” Spadaro said. “We are there to reassure and build partner capacity,” he said.