CAMP SENDAI, Japan - The transition from junior enlisted soldier to non-commissioned officer is a proud moment for those who don the trio of stripes for the first time. Hefty responsibility comes with the new rank, and only those who are fit for the challenge are chosen to wear it. The U.S. Army Non-commissioned Officer Corps, known as the backbone of the Army, is as old as our military history itself and has served as a model for the Japan Ground Self Defense Force as they set up their own corps.

The command sergeants major for U.S. Army Pacific and U.S. Army Japan paid a visit to the newly-minted JGSDF non-commissioned officer school during their command visit to the bilateral training exercise Yama Sakura 63, held this year at Camp Sendai, Japan. Members of the JGSDF have previously attended leadership courses with the U.S. Marines and have used both as inspiration for setting up their course which is comprised of classroom and field training environments.

JGSDF members began their time in the field with a 30K (18.6 mile) foot march. Those marching had seven hours to cross the finish line and carried with them weapons, helmets, backpacks and an array of things needed for combat. Via translator, the command sergeants majors. from both countries discussed the similarities between their march and the U.S. three-hour, 12-mile, 45-pound ruck marches.

After each JGSDF member crossed the finished line, they were placed into one of three training platoons based on their current military area of specialty - small arms training platoon, mortar training platoon and signal training platoon. Over the next two days, in the rain, mud and snow, the senior enlisted advisers would observe comprehensive field exercises performed by all three.

The tour began with a view of a raised map created from the earth, complete with signs, small terrain décor and colored string to denote the plan of action for each team. USARPAC Command Sgt. Maj. Frank Leota and USARJ Command Sgt. Maj. Steven Payton, reviewed the plan, excited at the detail that lay before them, and offered their suggestions, being prior infantry and artillery respectively.

Upon exit from the briefing tent where the map was housed, JGSDF members began appearing from the woods, their uniforms and faces camouflaged with their surroundings. After a quick assembly into squads, the leaders watched as they began to patrol the landscape.

Following along with the infantrymen, Leota attached himself to the tail of the squad. In ACU pattern he was mismatched with his group, but the way his eyes and face lit up as he trudged in the mud behind his team showed that his demeanor was a perfect fit.

As both teams came upon a four-way intersecting road from different paths, Payton chuckled as our team disregarded his earlier advice and chose to take the gravel road less traveled.

"They are determined to take that road," he said as he smiled and shook his head.

Up and down muddy hills the patrol continued. As they marched on, we peeled ourselves away and traveled to the woods to observe the artillery training. The tree line was peppered with cammo netting tents, each filled with JGSDF members digging for defense.

In true sergeant major fashion, the commanding pair quizzed JGSDF members on their gear, their tactics and gave tips along the way. Enjoyment exuded from each leader as he conversed with the members, covered in camouflage, vegetation and rainwater.

"I could be in a warm TOC looking at reports right now, Leota said with a warm smile, "but as you can see I love being out here watching Soldiers train."

His enjoyment was visible to all present and his advice was caring.

"We train non-commissioned officers to lead, but more importantly we teach them to take care of their men. Given the conditions, if their feet are cold and wet, they change their socks. If they start to sweat from digging, they change their t-shirts," he said as he pointed to the JGSDF members at work behind him, soaked from sweat and rain.

"As a leader you take care of the little things for your men and they will go a long way for you," Leota said.

He pointed to the interpreters fancy brown leather shoes as he spoke and then a voice from the crowd around us said, "He should probably change his socks." The group chucked in agreement.

Once the rain stopped, the snow began, replacing the muddy ground, creating a landscape looking more like the frozen tundra than a Japanese island. Day two was bright, crisp and snowy as the U.S. leaders followed the JGSDF signal platoon through the woods, watching them scout and mark places to set up communication equipment.

The white snow against the dark uniforms worn by the JGSDF created quite a contrast but hidden in the woods among the dark tree trunks, the snipers were hard to spot. They secured the area for groups of members who quickly collected in clearings to take a knee and discuss the plan of action with their laminated maps. Leota got right down in the snow with them. He quizzed them on their plans, offered suggestions and beamed at the strategy lain before him.

After a day spent in the snow, Leota and Payton vocally praised the school operations on numerous occasions and made mental notes to bring back to the U.S. Army's own non-commissioned officer training schools.

Of the five sergeant training units in Japan, this is the only school with the inclusion of a signal unit. It's also the only non-commissioned officer school that trains female JGSDF members.

As the leaders discussed the similarities in training, they also discussed the common thread between the trainees who come to the school feeling unprepared for the tasks ahead of them. As they watched the JGSDF members put their new training knowledge to use during their "final exam," Leota and Payton smiled.

"The most rewarding thing is watching them graduate," Leota said. "Knowing your training helped to mold and shape that young sergeant."

Page last updated Wed December 12th, 2012 at 00:00