CAMP ITAMI, Japan –- Yama Sakura 61, an annual bilateral exercise with the Japan Ground Self Defense Force and U.S. Army Pacific officially began, Jan. 30, at Camp Itami, Japan.<br /> <br /> The Yama Sakura exercise is a simulation-driven joint bilateral command post exercise designed to enhance U.S. and Japan combat readiness and interoperability while strengthening bi-lateral relationships. <br /> <br /> U.S. military members and Japan Ground Self Defense Force members are afforded the opportunity to exchange ideas, tactics, techniques, and military experiences in order to ensure the defense of Japan and support security interests in the region.<br /> <br /> Each year the exercise location rotates between the five regional armies of the Japan Ground Self Defense Force. The Middle Army, based in Camp Itami, is hosting this year’s Yama Sakura 61.<br /> <br /> Objectives of Yama Sakura 61 include training U.S. ground forces for deployment to Japan in the event of contingencies, as well as exercising joint capabilities in the defense of Japan.<br /> <br /> Since 1982, Yama Sakura has focused on the development and refinement of the JGSDF and U.S. Army Pacific’s efforts in the areas of bilateral planning, coordination and interoperability through training.<br /> <br /> During the opening ceremony, U.S. Army Pacific Commander Lt. Gen. Francis Wiercinski and Japan Ground Self-Defense Force Middle Army Commander Lt. Gen. Ryuichiro Arakawa, both stressed the importance of the annual bilateral exercise.<br /> <br /> “Yama Sakura is a premier exercise for U.S. Army Pacific,” said Wiercinski. “Every year we improve our strong bi-lateral partnerships and this year is no exception.”<br /> <br /> Arakawa said Yama Sakura 61 is the largest exercise where the Japan Ground Self Defense Force and U.S. Army Pacific can train their mutual coordination through bilateral command and staff activities. <br /> <br /> “Yama Sakura is the first bilateral Army Command Post Exercise after the Great East Japan Earthquake,” said Arakawa. “We closely cooperated with the U.S. military through such command post activities during the disaster relief operation.”<br /> <br /> For the first time in the history of Yama Sakura, members from the Australian Defense Force are observing the command post exercise.<br /> <br /> More than 800 U.S. military personnel and over 3,500 Japan Ground Self-Defense Force personnel are participating in YS61.