News: Marine officers learn about Japanese culture, politics, defense
Story by Capt. Caleb Eames
TOKYO - Five III Marine Expeditionary Force officers, along with other U.S. Forces Japan service members, participated in the Japan Ministry of Foreign Affairs orientation Feb. 11 – 15 in Tokyo, Japan.
According to organizers, the MOFA orientation program is designed to introduce U.S. military officers to Japan’s culture, political system and national policy, especially as it relates to the United States.
“We are happy to host the USFJ members and enable them to experience our government and political systems firsthand,” said Takeo Akiba, the deputy director-general with the North American Affairs Bureau, MOFA. “The knowledge these officers gain further strengthens the U.S.-Japan Alliance as we continue to work together for a future of continued prosperity and security.”
Daily activities for the service members included lectures by university professors, business leaders and elected government officials; cultural tours of historical landmarks; and social events where participants conversed with U.S. and Japanese diplomatic and political staff members.
“This is very beneficial for newly arrived personnel to Japan, and staff who interact frequently with their Japanese counterparts,” said Army Maj. Eric Stainbrook, a liaison officer to the Western Army, Japan Ground Self-Defense Force. “It shows the importance the Japanese government places on the alliance and demonstrates the manner in which we both work together to overcome challenges.”
The program also builds a greater understanding of Japan by developing relationships between officials and service members and deepening the cooperative government and military aspects of the strong alliance.
“This helps us better understand the historical and cultural background of the U.S.-Japan Alliance and the decision-making processes which affect us,” said U.S. Marine Maj. David Padilla the executive officer with 3rd Battalion, 12th Marine Regiment, 3rd Marine Division, III MEF. “As Marines in Japan, the rebalance to the Pacific is very important and, of course, the U.S.-Japan Alliance will affect how the Marine Corps operates in this region.”
Presentations to USFJ members included an overview of details and mechanisms of the alliance, including the status of forces agreement.
“Many of the briefs dealt with Okinawa and the SOFA,” said U.S. Marine Capt. Gary Kamykowski, an adjutant with Marine Tactical Air Command Squadron 18, Marine Air Control Group 18, 1st Marine Aircraft Wing, III MEF. “It is important for us as Marines to understand how MOFA and elected officials have visibility on even small things that happen in Okinawa and how that could potentially affect the broader relationship.”
Discussions were also held on important aspects of U.S. military training in Japan and the recent increased participation of the JGSDF in Marine Corps training events, such as the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit’s Certification Exercise in Guam and the 13th MEU’s Exercise Iron Fist at Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, Calif.
The discussions were valuable for the III MEF participants, who often plan and execute training exercises closely with USFJ and MOFA agencies, according to Padilla.
“As part of 3rd Battalion, 12th Marines, conducting the artillery relocation program, we coordinate with both U.S. Forces Japan and the Ministry of Defense to conduct training outside of Okinawa,” said Padilla. “It is very valuable for us to understand the complexities of the political and military process here in Japan.”
During the orientation, the U.S. service members visited the Diet, the Japanese version of the U.S. Congress, and sat in on a Diet session with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Minister of Defense Itsunori Onodera.
An especially memorable part of the orientation was a visit to a local kendo hall, where the Marines and USFJ members were treated to Japanese sword fighting history, demonstrations, and even some hands-on practical application. Overall, the program was well received by all who attended.
“This is an outstanding program, and it was extremely valuable to step outside of our tactical execution responsibilities briefly to learn about and interact with MOFA and the Ministry of Defense,” said Air Force Maj. Christopher Wood, commanding officer, 374th Contracting Squadron, Yokota Air Base. “It provides us a strategic perspective of the U.S.-Japan Alliance, as well as the surrounding politics, economics and security issues.”