CAMP ASAKA, JAPAN - Lieutenant Gen. Benjamin R. Mixon, U.S. Army, Pacific commander, and Japanese Lt. Gen. Kazushi Izumi, commander Japanese Ground Self Defense Force Eastern Army, saluted the colors together during the playing of their nation's national anthems at the opening ceremony for Yama Sakura 55, Dec. 7, 2008, on the grounds of the JGSDF Transportation School.

This year's exercise marks the 27th year Japan and American forces have tested their ability to work together and their capability to defend the Japanese islands.

During the ceremony, an estimated 400 U.S. and Japanese Ground Self Defense Force soldiers represented the more than 1,000 service members participating in YS55.

Stepping to the podium, Lt. Gen. Izumi said Yama Sakura, over the years, has made enormous contributions to strengthening the U.S.-Japan alliance, and helped the JGSDF make several improvements in the capabilities of its regional army operations.

"This marks the third year under Yama Sakura that we conduct operations under the JGSDF's new joint operations structure...I firmly believe that this exercise holds great significance in promoting the solidarity of U.S-Japan relations and contributing to the stability of our region."

Mixon said that another objective of YS55 is the validation of the Theater Army Command and Control structure.

This the first time USARPAC has taken on a new role. Through the Army's ongoing transformation, USARPAC now has the responsibility of a wartime, deployable command post.

"As we continue to hone our warfighting skills to meet the Yama Sakura scenario and training objectives, we look forward to building on the training we do together and the Eastern Army's understanding and ability to carry out civil-military operations," he said.

"I look forward to a great week of working with our Japanese counterparts, and continuing our longstanding relationship."