YAKIMA TRAINING CENTER, Wash. - While moving to their objective and engaging enemy targets, U.S. Cavalry soldiers passed along vital intelligence back to their commander, who in turn relayed the information to the commander of the 3rd Combat Team of the Japan Ground Self-Defense Force.
Soon, a Japanese force of heavy tanks and mechanized infantry roared past the U.S. screening position and engaged enemy targets, whose locations had been supplied by the scouts of Bravo Troop.
“When they shoot on the move it’s pretty impressive that they are able to do so well,” 2nd Lt. Jordan Woodburn, 2nd Platoon leader, Bravo Troop, 3rd Squadron, 38th Cavalry Regiment, 201st Battlefield Surveillance Brigade, said of the Japanese forces.
The Saturday live-fire training exercise at Yakima Training Center, included soldiers from 3-38 Cav. and Japan’s 3rd Combat Team and was the culminating event of Operation Rising Thunder, a 28-day training event designed to enhance the bonds between U.S. and Japanese forces as well as provide important training for both countries.
“Working with the Japanese tankers was good because I actually got to send back reports and work as an actual scout would on the battlefield,” Woodburn said. “Coming out here I feel like we were able to train as scouts.” “I think our guys got a lot of good training; I got a lot of good training,” he added.
For Woodburn, this was not only his first time training at YTC, but also his first experience working with an allied nation.
Woodburn said that despite experiencing a language barrier, his platoon members were able to develop friendships with their Japanese counterparts by spending time together and trading cultural items such as unit patches and Meals Ready to Eat.
“A lot of the guys were trading and hanging out whenever they had downtime,” Woodburn said. “I feel like the relationships that they have built here will last between our countries for a very long time.”
The Japanese soldiers had to overcome many of the same communication barriers while interacting and training with U.S. forces, but overcoming those barriers led to a valuable learning experience.
“We were able to learn a lot from the American snipers who have actually experienced combat,” Staff Sgt. Takayuki Otaka, a sniper with Japan’s 3rd Combat Team said. “Being that the sniper is still new in the Japan Ground Self-Defense Force, there was a lot for us to learn when we came here. At first we had a hard time developing friendships due to the language barrier, but we were able to develop friendships and with the help of interpreters we were able to deepen those bonds.”
Despite the obstacles, Operation Rising Thunder has been an important opportunity for the Japan Ground Self-Defense Force to train and develop relationships with the U.S., Maj. Gen. Shinichi Tezuka, deputy commander of the 2nd Division, Japan Ground Self-Defense Force, said.
Due to the space limitations and restrictions on the types of ammunition that can be fired in Japan, the Japanese spent a lot of time focusing on Operation Rising Thunder, Tezuka said. The planning for the event usually starts a year out and their most elite units are hand-picked to train in the U.S.
“I believe that the training we receive here at the Yakima Training Center is very important to us due to the fact that we cannot do most of the training that we do here at Japanese ranges,” Tezuka said.
Tezuka also realizes that there is an advantage to being able to come to the U.S. beyond the training.
“This training is not only good for us, so that we can use the space; it also helps us to bond with our U.S. counterparts,” Tezuka said. “I hope that this training will help to strengthen our bond that we have with the United States.”
For Woodburn, this training event and the bonds created with the Japanese soldiers are something that will likely stick with him for a while.
“For my career and my experiences in life, this is something I’ll always look back on and say ‘I trained with the Japanese,’” he said. “That’s something I can take away from this and always have.”