- Associated Press - Wednesday, May 4, 2016

FORT SHAFTER, Hawaii (AP) - Gen. Robert B. Brown on Wednesday formally took over as the new leader of Army soldiers in the Pacific, succeeding Gen. Vincent Brooks who has assumed command of U.S. Forces Korea.

Brooks handed over command to Brown during a ceremony at U.S. Army Pacific headquarters in Hawaii. Brown is now responsible for about 80,000 active duty soldiers around the Pacific including in Alaska, Hawaii and Japan.

Brown told reporters after the ceremony his top priority would be on building readiness of soldiers and units. He said the Army would retain the same number of personnel in the region even as the service downsizes elsewhere.

“There’s no question that the Army, and our nation, is committed to the Pacific and how important it is,” Brown said.

Navy Adm. Harry Harris, who leads all U.S. military forces in the region as head of the U.S. Pacific Command, said Brown brought combat experience from duty in the Balkans and Iraq to the job as well as previous assignments in Hawaii.

“He definitely has the understanding of what it takes to be successful in this community,” Harris told the crowd gathered for the ceremony.

Harris praised Brooks for his work on an initiative called Pacific Pathways, which sends soldiers on a series of three exercises with allies and other partners in the Asia-Pacific region. Brooks has said that sending one unit to participate in three separate drills adds to the Army’s presence in the region and saves money.

“He had a vision of leveraging rotational Army units, helicopter deployments and existing exercises to advance critical partnerships, increase responsiveness and actually improve readiness,” Harris said. “In this theater where ‘we fight tonight’ is not a slogan but a way of life, Pacific Pathways is making a difference.”

Brown, a West Point graduate, was promoted to a four-star general just before the event.

He comes to Hawaii from Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, where he led the U.S. Army Combined Arms Center as well as the Command and General Staff College. He previously commanded the I Corps in Washington state and served as a U.S. Army Pacific plans officer and U.S. Pacific Command staff officer.

Brown said he’s an avid surfer, though he declared he’s “terrible” at the sport.

“I just love getting out there. I realized it’s an incredible stress relief for me when I was here before,” Brown told reporters.

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