YAKIMA TRAINING CENTER, Wash. - Approximately 350 soldiers from the Japan Ground Self-Defense Force made the trek to Yakima Training Center during September for a month of training.

The troops were in the United States to take part in Exercise Rising Thunder, an annual training event that usually teams Japanese and American units. This year, the deployment of maneuver units stationed on Fort Lewis meant the Japanese were without their usual partners. But in typical military fashion, the training went on.

While Japan has a number of training ranges, the expansive area of YTC provides for greater versatility in maneuvering and carrying out live-fire training, with fewer restrictions.

"In Japan, the impact zones are designated as to the type of round (we can fire) 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."

The versatility offered by YTC extended beyond just live fire training.

"Nowhere in Japan can we do combined (arms) training with infantry and tanks," said Colonel Kosei Kai, the 10th Infantry regimental commander. "But at Yakima, we are able to."

Other training opportunities the Japanese took advantage of included indirect fire with artillery and mortars, as well as tactical training for urban operations.

"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 the Type 96 Multi-Purpose Missile System. This is an anti-tank missile system used by the JGSDF. This is a crew-served system that fires missiles controlled in flight by a fiber-optic cable spooling from the missile, similar to the American TOW. Live firing the sophisticated - and expensive - missile was seen as a reward for the crew. The soldiers who fired the MPMS were chosen by a competition.

"The best-of-the-best shooters were chosen to participate in this firing," said Lt. Col. Hiroyuki Nakayama, the commander of the Northern Army Ground-to-Ship and Anti-Tank Unit.

"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. The soldiers have a very deep appreciation for the facility and the American Soldiers who made it possible... even the barracks were comfortable!" Nakayama said.

"It's very obvious that the skills of my soldiers have improved dramatically and we would like to come back and train again," Okumura said.

Sgt. Stephen Proctor is assigned to the 17th Public Affairs Detachment. This article appeared in Fort Lewis' Northwest Guardian.

Page last updated Fri July 22nd, 2011 at 12:16