SHAW AIR FORCE BASE, S.C. — The three-star general who's taken charge of the Third Army and its U.S. ground forces around the Persian Gulf and central Asia has become a roving ambassador, traveling from his new command based in South Carolina to more than a dozen nations in those regions.
"We do much more than what is in the public eye, more than what we've done in Iraq and Afghanistan," said Lt. Gen. Vincent Brooks, who took over command of the U.S. land forces in a 20-nation region that ranges from Egypt to Afghanistan.
In an interview with The Associated Press on Thursday in his new headquarters outside Sumter, S.C., Brooks said his role as a military diplomat fits in with the new strategy announced last week at the Pentagon, which looks to slim U.S. military forces and rely more on allied militaries.
Such ties are vital to any U.S. military ground operation, Brooks said, noting the reliance on Kuwait and Jordan during the recent pullout of U.S. forces from neighboring Iraq.
"We look for partnerships, and those build relationships to become a foundation for what we do," Brooks said.
Military planners in South Carolina and at their forward base in Kuwait planned the Iraq pullout, the transfer of equipment back to the United States, and also the move of some forces and equipment onward to Afghanistan, he said. Some are remaining for a time in Kuwait, he said.
The Third Army is responsible for U.S. land forces in the 20-nation region that falls under the U.S. Central Command, but Brooks is also the commander of those Army troops, known as U.S. Army Central.
Brooks said his soldiers helped about 86,000 military and civilian personnel leave Iraq over a three-month period. Their equipment, he said, would have filled 19,000 20-foot containers.
"If you stacked them up, they would be nine times the height of Mount Everest," he said. "There is no mountain of metal to be found."
The massive effort met the end-of-the-year deadline agreed upon with the Iraqi government during the administration of President George W. Bush. By mid-December, there were two U.S. bases and fewer than 4,000 U.S. troops in Iraq, a dramatic change from the roughly 500 military posts and 170,000 troops during the surge ordered by Bush in 2007, when violence was at its worst.
The Third Army had just completed its own move from a headquarters in Atlanta to its new environs here at Shaw Air Force Base, which plays host to the Ninth Air Force. The move put both the Air Force and Army commanders that are in charge of U.S. air and land forces around the Persian Gulf and central Asia on the same installation.
It was a switch ordered under the 2005 Pentagon base realignment and closure process.
Since June, Brooks said he and his chief adviser on enlisted matters, Command Sgt. Major Stephan Frennier, have visited with as many military forces in other nations as they can. Many smaller countries want to learn how the U.S. military relies on enlisted soldiers, and learn things such as its use of professional medical officers, he said.
They set up military-to-military training and exchanges so the military forces can get to know each other's capabilities and officers, Brooks said.
"I call it exporting professionalism, military professionalism, and that's what we do best," Brooks said.
Such exchanges can range from having U.S. medical officers show how they set up trauma units, and give lessons in how to deal with combat injuries.
Frennier said he spent part of November in Jordan because its military is trying to build an enlisted force, which the U.S. military uses to train soldiers in tactics, standards, discipline and other skills.
Brooks said he has visited Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Afghanistan, with Turkmenistan and Pakistan still in the future. Around the Persian Gulf, he has been to Lebanon, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Iraq and Bahrain. Oman and Egypt are next in line, he said.
Relationships with many of those nations have been key to supporting the transfer of U.S. supplies in and out of landlocked Afghanistan, he said.
And as 2012 moves along, the general said, his forces will be instrumental in planning the anticipated drawdown in Afghanistan.
"We helped accelerate the buildup in Afghanistan, and we know it is time to remove some of it," he said. "It will get done."