KANEOHE BAY, Hawaii (AP) — The U.S. Marine Corps' new commander for the Pacific said Friday he aims to advance his predecessor's work helping allies and partners develop their skills storming beaches and moving forces ashore.
Lt. Gen. David Berger made the comments after assuming command of U.S. Marine Corps Forces Pacific from Lt. Gen. John Toolan.
Berger said he will make sure his new command understands what capabilities its allies want and need and how the U.S. Marines can help them.
Toolan told reporters there's growing interest in amphibious capabilities in the Pacific because of China's land-reclamation efforts in the South China Sea, where several nations have contested territorial claims.
"The Vietnamese, the Filipinos, all those guys have a vested interest in the Spratlys, the Paracels. So they want to protect their sovereign territory," Toolan said. "And amphibious is the way to handle islands."
Marine Forces Pacific includes units in California, Hawaii, Japan and South Korea. Some are in Australia on a six-month rotation.
Berger most recently served as the commander of a marine expeditionary force at Camp Pendleton in California.
Toolan was retiring after 40 years in the Marine Corps.
"The momentum that he's generated — I need to make sure that that doesn't stall," Berger said.
Toolan told reporters that helping Japan, Australia and South Korea develop their amphibious operations had been one of his top accomplishments.
Toolan also pointed to the work the Marines have done to help the Philippines military build its army so it can defend its territory and address internal security challenges.
He cited the growth of what he called a "community of interest" in amphibious operations. The U.S. has been working with two dozen nations interested in developing amphibious skills, bringing them together for conferences and exercises.
"It is paying huge benefits for us. And in the long run it will help us give them areas to focus on while we focus on the high end," he said.
Brad Glosserman, executive director of the think tank Pacific Forum CSIS, said Berger will have to ensure his new command's warfighting capabilities remain sharp amid tensions on the Korean peninsula, the East China Sea and the South China Sea.
"The tip of the spear, which the Marines tend to be, needs of course to be sharp," Glosserman said. "That's the immediate concern that he's got. You're always concerned about your warfighting capability."