SAGAMI GENERAL DEPOT, Japan -- During a period of 12 weeks starting in January 2015, 1st Lt. Mitsuaki Saruya, of the Japanese Ground Self Defense Force, had the unique opportunity to work side by side with the Soldiers, Department of the Army civilians and contractors of the Army Field Support Battalion-Northeast Asia.

This opportunity came as part of the U.S. Army Japan Cooperative Exchange Program (Co-Op).

When the U.S. Army Japan Bilateral Engagement Program coordinator asked if the battalion would be interested in hosting a JGSDF officer, Lt. Col. Chris Noe, commander, AFSBn-NEA, responded, "We absolutely want to participate, as this program provides us another opportunity to grow our partnership with the Japanese Self Defense Force. While we have hosted numerous JGSDF visits over the last few years, this will allow us to form an even stronger relationship that our Co-Op student can take back and share with his unit."

First initiated by USARJ in 1995, the Co-Op program embeds JGSDF Soldiers into various U.S. Army and Air Force units at Camp Zama and Sagami General Depot. The U.S. Army designed the program to improve bilateral relations, enhance English language skills and allow both sides to learn about U.S. and Japanese cultures.

Co-Op class #75 was comprised of 12 students including three officers and 9 non-commissioned officers who were embedded with a variety of U.S. Army units.

Saruya spent time with AFSBn-NEA learning about its daily mission overseeing Army Prepositioned Stocks in the Pacific theater and all the hard work that goes into keeping more than seven million items in a high state of readiness.

"Having our unit participate in this program was a great experience both for Lieutenant Saruya and everyone in our battalion here in Japan," said Maj. Bruce Hodges, operations officer, AFSBn-NEA. "Mitsuaki and I conducted physical training together every morning which gave me a chance to get to know him and over the ten weeks, we formed a lifelong friendship."

Saruya spent time with sections of AFSBn-NEA, such as the maintenance branch or supply branch, where he learned about day-to-day operations. He also participated in several key leader engagements with senior U.S. and Japanese officials, including the Honorable Alan Estevez, principle deputy undersecretary of defense (Acquisition, Technology and Logistics) and Masakazu Yoshida, director-general for acquisition reform, Japan Ministry of Defense.

"I have learned a lot about the U.S. Army and its people during these last few weeks that I will take back and share with my fellow JGSDF members," Saruya said. "I would recommend this program to anyone and look forward to continuing this partnership into the future."

The AFSBn-NEA is part of the 403rd Army Field Support Brigade, headquartered at Camp Henry, Republic of Korea. The 403rd AFSB is one of seven brigades that fall under U.S. Army Sustainment Command, headquartered at Rock Island Arsenal, Illinois.