By Staff Sgt. Mark MirandaSeptember 11, 2013
YAKIMA TRAINING CENTER, Wash. - A friendly series of softball games between soldiers of Japan's Ground Self-Defense Force and soldiers of 3rd Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Infantry Division kicked off a day celebrating the partnership for this year's Rising Thunder combined exercises at Yakima Training Center, Sept. 9.
The exercises have traditionally offered soldiers of I Corps and now 7th Infantry Division units opportunity to increase language skills, regional expertise and cultural understanding by working with the JGSDF. A break in training that included field artillery, mortar, and small-arms ranges in the days prior allowed service members from both countries the chance to relax and bond over their enjoyment of the sport.
"It's great to be able to interact with the Japanese soldiers, say hello and do something fun outside of work," said Spc. Diane Zuniga, an intelligence analyst from Rochester, N.Y., assigned to 5th Battalion, 20th Infantry Regiment. "They're passionate about baseball in Japan, and a lot of the soldiers we're playing against have pretty impressive skills, so the games have been exciting."
The games drew large crowds cheering for each of the teams. Japanese spectators kept the mood light with small yellow cones used as noisemakers.
Backup pitcher for the Japanese team, Sgt. 1st Class Masaji Kojima, 4th Field Artillery, JGSDF entertained both sides with his comic antics and pitching style.
"At first we were overwhelmed by the power and enthusiasm displayed by the American soldiers, but they are good sportsmen and we had a lot of fun," said Japanese Ground Self-Defense Force Master Sgt. Takedomi Fumiaki, 4th Field Artillery.
"We lost the first game of the day, but then came back and won the second. It feels great, we'll celebrate the victory tonight and talk about all the great plays we made," said Fumiaki, who played shortstop.
At the end, both teams lined up, faced each other and bowed in a show of mutual respect. They thanked one another for a memorable game.
"For me and several others in my unit, it's our first time in the U.S. We've had lots of learning experiences, and we've enjoyed building friendships out here," Fumiaki said.
Enjoying a bit of America's favorite pastime was another step forward in continuing the relationship the JGSDF has had with soldiers from Joint Base Lewis-McChord through 20 years of annual Rising Thunder exercises.