OSAKA, Japan – U.S. Army soldiers and Japan Ground Self Defense Force members participated in the 2012 Yama Sakura 61 exercise at Camp Itami in Osaka, Japan, Jan. 23 – Feb. 6.<br /> <br /> Yama Sakura is an annual, simulation computer driven joint-bilateral exercise between the JGSDF from Middle Army and the U.S. Army Pacific.<br /> <br /> This exercise is designed to strengthen military operations between the two forces at the operational level and aid in the defense of Japan. YS61 builds a working relationship between both countries and provides a platform to learn different work ethics. <br /> <br /> Participating in the Yama Sakura exercises proved to be a valuable tool during the relief efforts of the March 2011 North East Japan Earthquake and subsequent tsunami. <br /> <br /> “Working together enabled us to seamlessly come together and work to support the JGSDF. I think that paid great dividends to the Japanese people,” said Lt. Gen. Francis Wiercinski, commander of U.S. Army Pacific.<br /> <br /> YS 61 is the first iteration since the March 11, 2011, disaster. <br /> <br /> “This is an extremely important exercise,” said Maj. Miranda Killingsworth, civil affairs planner for the U.S. Army Pacific Contingency Command Post. “It not only builds a relationship and understanding with our Japanese counterparts, it also reassures the Japanese and American people that there is a relationship between our two nations.”<br /> <br /> Cultural events were offered to members participating in this iteration of YS61. Participants visited historical sites, including Kiyomizu Temple, Kinkakuji Golden Pavilion, Todai Temple and Osaka Castle. Visits to homes of JGSDF members were also offered to U.S. military personnel. <br /> <br /> “I enjoyed visiting the Kiyomizu Temple,” said Sgt. 1st Class Michael Oliver, 133rd Mobile Public Affairs Detachment senior non-commissioned officer. “It was my first time getting out and enjoying the scenery, and it taught me a lot about the Japanese culture.”<br /> <br /> Along with getting to view the Japanese cultural sites, U.S. service members were able to bond with their Japanese counterparts at Camp Itami’s Friendship Hall. <br /> <br /> “YS 61 gave me an opportunity to talk to and get to know new people and see the Japanese culture,” said Spc. Vinson Williams, geospatial engineer with the 34th Infantry Division, Minnesota National Guard. <br /> <br /> The exercise officially started with an opening ceremony and a bilateral press conference in which U.S. Army Pacific commander, Lt. Gen. Francis Wiercinski, and Middle Army commander, Lt. Gen. Ryuichiro Arakawa, addressed both troops and media. <br /> <br /> “I know one thing about this exercise, and that is we will make mistakes and that’s a very good thing ,because if we make the mistakes here, and we make the corrections here, we won’t make them when it counts,” said Wiercinski.<br /> <br /> The primary units that participated in the YS61 exercise are U.S. Army Pacific, 8th Army, U.S. Army Japan and the JGSDF’s Middle Army. Elements of the U.S. Air Force, Navy and Marines Corps are also participating, along with the National Guard and Reserve units. This year, for the first time, the Australian Defence Force is observing the exercise. <br /> <br /> Yama Sakura 63 is slated for Dec. 2012 with the Northeast Army of the Japan Ground Self Defense Force in Sendai, Japan.