Fargo sails through CINCPAC hearing
By Susan Roth
Gannett News Service
WASHINGTON In a vote Monday, the Senate Armed Services Committee is expected to approve the appointment of Adm. Thomas Fargo as commander of U.S. forces in the Pacific and send his nomination on to the full Senate.
Fargo's appointment to head the largest U.S. command is likely to breeze through the full Senate, if yesterday's committee hearing on his nomination is any indication.
Lawmakers from both parties, including Hawai'i Democrat Daniel Akaka, uniformly praised Fargo, who has been commander of the Hawai'i-based Pacific Fleet since October 1999.
Senators questioned Fargo on a number of issues, including the role of U.S. Special Forces in the Philippines and the relationship of the Pacific Command to the new Northern Command planned to provide "homeland security" for the Mainland.
The Pacific Command widely known as CINCPAC, a name derived from "commander in chief, Pacific" is headquartered in Hawai'i at Camp Smith on Halawa Heights.
In introducing Fargo, Sen. John Warner, R-Va., the committee's ranking Republican, recounted the highlights of Fargo's 32-year career in the Navy. Warner applauded Fargo's handling of recent "extraordinary challenges" including the repatriation of a U.S. plane and its crew downed in China and the collision of the Navy submarine Greeneville with the fishing training vessel Ehime Maru in an accident that claimed nine Japanese lives.
"He has done a tremendous job in his current capacity," agreed Akaka, also a committee member. "He has done an outstanding job ensuring our national security. I have a deep appreciation of his knowledge and experience in Asia and the Pacific. You have my strong support."
Fargo told the committee he has five priorities:
Sustaining the global war on terrorism.
Improving readiness in the Pacific.
Reinforcing the United States' strong relationships with other countries in the region, such as Japan and South Korea.
Improving quality of life for service men and women that is critical to their retention in the military.
Promoting changes necessary to meet U.S. needs in the region.
The committee chairman, Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., said he was concerned that U.S. troops might be drawn into conflict with terrorist groups in the Philippines.
"Will you notify this committee and the Congress if there is any change in status?" Levin asked Fargo.
Fargo promised that he would, adding that the U.S. Special Forces are there just to train, assist and advise the Philippine military.
"The guidelines (of the mission) are very clear that we're not to engage in conflict," except in self-defense, Fargo said.
Akaka asked him how he would coordinate the Pacific Command's homeland security for Hawai'i with the new Northern Command.
"We'll work out appropriate arrangements between the Pacific Command and the Northern Command for the defense of Hawai'i and the Pacific territories," Fargo said.
Fargo praised the work of the outgoing Pacific commander, Adm. Dennis Blair, who he said set up an area of the command in Hawai'i charged with coordinating homeland security needs with state and local government officials.
That coordination includes an exchange of intelligence and a plan to mobilize forces in the event of an emergency, he said.