*Editor's note: all quotes obtained through translators
YAKIMA TRAINING CENTER, Wash. — The scorching sun beat down through a cloudless sky onto the parched hills. Engines revved. Dust clouds billowed as tracks rolled. The green flags were put away and the red flags unfurled. All attention was on the grinding mechanical sounds of the turrets as they swiveled to face downrange. On command, the tanks raced through the maneuver area and fired on their objective while scouts on the rear hill fed the tanks instructions.
Around 350 Japanese soldiers made the trek to Yakima Training Center, Wash., for nearly a month of training throughout September during Exercise Rising Thunder, an annual training event that usually involves Japanese and American troops. Due to current deployments, however, the Americans were unable to participate this year. But in typical military fashion, the training went on as planned.
While Japan has a number of quality ranges, the vast area of YTC provides for greater versatility in maneuvering capabilities, more live-fire ranges and fewer restrictions.
"In Japan, the impact zones are designated by the type of round and the tanks can only maneuver forward and backwards," said, Capt. Hiroshi Okumura, the commander of 2nd Company, 11th Tank Battalion. "At Yakima, they can shoot various types of rounds while maneuvering forward and backwards and side-to-side."
Col. Kosei Kai, the 10th Infantry regimental commander, added, "Nowhere in Japan can we do combined training with infantry and tanks. But at Yakima, we are able to."
Other training opportunities included howitzer and mortar firing as well as tactical urban operations training.
"Overall the training has gone very well," said Kai. "Some especially good training was the shoot house, counter-insurgency training and the urban assault course."
One highlight of the exercise was the firing of an MPMS anti-tank missile.
The sophisticated and expensive piece of technology required several Soldiers to operate. According to Lt. Col. Hiroyuki Nakayama, the commander of the Northern Army Ground-to-Ship and Anti-Tank Unit, the Soldiers who participated in the event were chosen by a competition. "The best of the best shooters were chosen to participate in this firing," he said.
"Yakima is an excellent facility with very few restrictions on the ranges," Nakayama continued, "and we've been able to do everything we planned to do."
Overall, the training appeared successful and was valued by the Soldiers.
"The Soldiers have a very deep appreciation for the facility and the American Soldiers who made it possible ... even the barracks were comfortable!" said Nakayama.
Okumura added, "It's very obvious that the skills of my soldiers have improved dramatically and we would like to come back and train again."