FORT IRWIN, Calif. -- Members of the Japanese Ground Self Defense Force arrived at Fort Irwin in a first-ever deployment of its kind. It is a trip eight years in the making. Global operational tempo of U.S. military forces in previous years made it difficult to schedule JGSDF units into the National Training Center's training calendar. Japanese military planners persisted and finally realized their goal this month.

About 180 JGSDF Soldiers from the Fuji Training Center near Mt. Fuji arrived at Fort Irwin on Jan. 10, to partner with the 3rd Stryker Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division during its four-week NTC training rotation. While here, the Japanese will be fully integrated into the training activities of the 3rd SBCT based at Joint Base Lewis-McCord and will be taking back to Japan training experiences not available there. The Fuji Training Center is the only one of its kind in Japan and is the equivalent of the NTC on a smaller scale.

"This is a very different training environment for us," said Lt. Col. Nobuyuki Ishii, the lead staff officer of Ground Staff Office (equivalent to Department of the Army headquarters). "In Japan, the maneuver area is limited and in a much smaller area. Not only is this a larger physical environment, suitable for large scale training, but we think the experience in a harsh, desert environment will toughen our Soldiers."

"The objective is to improve our unit maneuverability and capabilities, and to enhance interoperability between the U.S. and Japanese," Ishii said.