Navy and Marine Corps aircraft fly in formation above the US navy aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson as the it operates in the Pacific Ocean, Jan. 20, 2018, during a regularly scheduled deployment. Navy photo by Lt. David Babka
Today the spotlight is on one of the oldest and largest US military unified commands, the United States Pacific Command (PACOM), which was established on January 1st, 1947.
Along with the individual Army and Air Force component commands for the Pacific, PACOM includes areas that were originally assigned to the Far East Command and the Alaskan Command, both of which were disbanded in 1957 and 1975 respectively.
U.S. Navy Lt. Cmdr. Erika Schilling laughs with a Chuukese girl after teaching a “helping babies breathe” class during Pacific Partnership 2019.
US Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Tyrell K. Morris
The headquarters of then Commander in Chief, Pacific Command (CINCPAC) moved from Makalapa to Camp H.M. Smith in October 1957, which is also the headquarters of the Commander, Marine Forces Pacific.
CINCPAC also served concurrently as Commander in Chief of the US Pacific Fleet until January 1958, when the US Pacific Fleet became a separate component with its own commander.
Over the years, PACOM grew exponentially to include over 50 percent of the earth’s surface, an area of over 100 million square miles, when its area of responsibility was expanded to the east coast of Africa in 1976.
Malaysian Army Sgt. Jenel Wainoh demonstrates one of the techniques used to start a fire during a team building exercise with Pacific Partnership 2019 personnel at the Malaysian Armed Forces 1st Division Headquarters.
US Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class William Berksteiner
This growth included the addition of responsibilities for military forces and elements in the Indian Ocean, Southern Asia, and the Arctic in 1972.
Additionally, CINCPAC was assigned responsibility for the People's Republic of China, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, Mongolia, and the Republic of Madagascar in 1983, further expanding PACOM’s scope of operations.
At this point, CINCPAC was also re-designated as the Commander in Chief, US Pacific Command (USCINCPAC).
Marine Sgt. Cade Allen fires a GAU-17 minigun at a fast inshore attack craft during a live-fire exercise on board a UH-1Y Huey, assigned to Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron (VMM) 163 (Reinforced).
US Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Kyle Carlstrom
The authority of the unified commands to carry out their assigned missions and to employ combatant forces provided by the individual services was expanded and codified with the help of the Goldwater-Nichols Reorganization Act in 1986.
The reduction of PACOM’s vast area of operations began when the defense of Alaska and its surrounding waters was placed under the
leadership of one commander with the establishment of a new Alaskan Command (ALCOM) in 1989 at Elmendorf Air Force Base.
PACOM’S area of responsibility was further reduced with the commissioning of three Unified Command Plans from 1989 through 2000.
With developments around the world, the Middle East eventually became the focus of the US military’s attention and in 1989, responsibility for the Gulf of Oman and Gulf of Aden was assigned to US Central Command (CENTCOM).
On January 1, 1996 US military responsibility for the Seychelles and adjacent waters was also transferred to CENTCOM.
Furthermore, on October 1, 2000, responsibility for Indian Ocean waters off Tanzania, Mozambique, and South Africa was transferred from PACOM to US European Command (EUCOM).
As a result of the events of September 11, 2001 and the ensuing War on Terrorism, the Unified Command Plan was further altered, reducing PACOM’s area of responsibility.
With these developments, for the first time in the US military’s history, the entire surface of the earth was systematically divided between various unified combatant commands, including CENTCOM, EUCOM and PACOM
Around this time, a new Northern Command (NORTHCOM) was also created to enhance US homeland security. This development, combined with other changes in the various commands' responsibilities, resulted in significant adjustments for USPACOM as well.
For example, the West Coast of North America was reassigned from PACOM to NORTHCOM. While Alaska was also included in the reassignment to NORTHCOM, Alaskan Command forces remained assigned to USPACOM under the "Forces for Unified Commands Memorandum."
On the other hand, Antarctica was added to PACOM's area of responsibility during this time.
Effective October 24, 2002, the title "Commander in Chief, US Pacific Command" was changed to "Commander, US Pacific Command" (CDRUSPACOM) by direction of then Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld.
At the time, secretary Rumsfeld noted that there could only be one “Commander in Chief”, namely the President of the United States.
On December 17, 2008, a new Unified Command Plan documented the transfer of all areas of the Indian Ocean, previously assigned to PACOM, to the newly established US Africa Command (AFRICOM).
As a result, four island countries off the east coast of Africa, which were formerly assigned to PACOM, were reassigned to AFRICOM. These countries included: Comoros, Madagascar, Mauritius, and Reunion.
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