YAKIMA TRAINING CENTER, Wash. - The hills rumbled with explosions as helicopters, tanks and tactical vehicles descended on Yakima Training Center, Wash., for Operation Rising Thunder, Sept. 3-24. After two decades of interaction, the training continues to sustain and develop a relationship between the U.S. Army and the Japan Ground Self-Defense Force.
The hilly desert region provided wide-open space and terrain for the 800 I Corps soldiers and 500 members of the 16th Regimental Combat Team, JGSDF, to train on a broad array of tactics and equipment. The YTC ranges also allowed for the JGSDF to use weapons systems to their fullest capacity, while simultaneously learning unique tactical training skills from their American counterparts.
Tank, sniper and field artillery training in multi-echelon, combined environments provided a view of each other's military forces methods of training, professionalism and culture.
"Every single day out here the Japanese have been professional and have meshed together very well with our soldiers," said Staff Sgt. Mitchell Shaw, platoon sergeant, 5th Battalion, 20th Infantry Regiment, 3rd Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Infantry Division. "Some of their tactics and techniques are a little different from what we do, but their shooting skills are really good. They are definitely learners and tacticians."
A highlight in the training came when for the first time ever, the two forces conducted live-fire training using the 16th Combat Aviation Brigade's newly fielded AH-64E Apache helicopter and the JGSDF AH-64D Apache.
The 20th anniversary of the exercise featured significantly more participation from I Corps units than in the past. Previously the exercise was more limited in scope and saw more of a focus on offering logistic support. With fewer units deployed or prepping for deployment, 7th Infantry Division was able to provide a more robust team to partner with the JGSDF.
"That was a tremendous achievement, because you had Japanese aircraft and U.S. aircraft operating in the same airspace, taking the same commands from the tower, working air-space deconfliction, air space management, fires control and gunnery," said Maj. Gen. Stephan Lanza, commanding general, 7th Infantry Division. "The interoperability was tremendous."
For the Japanese forces, a sniper program is still a fairly new concept. During Operation Rising Thunder the snipers of the 5-20th Infantry Regiment taught, trained and ate with the JGSDF every day to develop a team bond and give the Japanese the skills to return home and train their force further.
"Our sniper program is still in its infancy, so we want to learn as much as possible with this opportunity," said Sgt. Maj. Munetsugo Matsubo, sniper, 16th Regimental Combat Team. "We share a lot of similarities in teaching the basics, but we're amazed at the level of experience that U.S. soldiers have."
The culminating event for Operation Rising Thunder, a two-day live-fire event, tested the forces on skills they had spent two weeks practicing. Following the completion of the successful exercise, many were happy with the results.
"Rising Thunder 13 has been a great event," said Lt. Col. Douglas Walter, battalion commander, 5-20th Infantry Regiment, 3rd Brigade 2nd Infantry Division. "I know my soldiers have gotten a lot out of it and the feedback has been positive from the Japanese. It has been phenomenal, just a great experience for the soldiers."
Operation Rising Thunder concluded with a special ceremony including both forces at YTC and a final opportunity for goodbyes.
"We are incredibly proud of the complex combined training that we have conducted and the relationships which we built," said Col. Willard M. Burleson, commander of operations, 7th Infantry Division. "We feel especially honored to have trained with the Japanese Ground Self-Defense Forces that stand ready to respond to Japan's needs."