WASHINGTON (Army News Service, Dec. 10, 2008) -- More than 1,000 U.S. and Japanese servicemembers are training together during the Yama Sakura exercise, Dec. 8-14.

This year's exercise kicked off with a Dec. 7 ceremony at Camp Asaka, Japan, and marks the 27th time the two nations have partnered to test their ability to work together and their capability to defend the Japanese islands.

"Yama Sakura is the premier exercise between U.S. Army Pacific and the Japanese Ground Self Defense Force," said Lt. Gen. Benjamin R. Mixon, commander, U.S. Army Pacific, during a telephone "roundtable" discussion Dec. 9 with Internet bloggers. This year, the two nations' armies exercise their ability to defend the island nation from outside attack.

"We work through some of the war plans for the defense of Japan," Mixon said. "We are operating in a scenario that presents a very high end threat -- which allows us to work on skills that are not exactly a part of ongoing counterinsurgency operations and doctrine we've been working the last several years."

Yama Sakura is an annual command-post exercise that challenges U.S. Army and Japanese Ground Self Defense Force leaders to work together to exercise their command and control ability.

"It's going pretty well, we are learning a lot of lessons about bilateral relationships with our Japanese counterparts and we are getting a chance to practice some of those operations that are in the high end of the spectrum which we have not worked on recently," Mixon said.

Mixon also talked with bloggers about how the Japanese military has developed since Sept. 11, 2001, becoming more expeditionary as part of the war on terror.

"They certainly have been more expeditionary, from the perspective of participating in non-combat types of operations or providing support to the war on terror," the general said. "And they are one of our staunchest allies here in the Asia-Pacific region. This new focus they have on supporting the war on terror, operations, humanitarian assistance -- is going to be good for the entire region and particularly for the United States."

While Japan's constitution prevents its military from participating outside its national boarders in missions other than humanitarian assistance, Mixon said the country's self-defense forces have proven themselves capable of providing defensive capability if the time comes.

"They are extremely disciplined and dedicated soldiers, they do live-fire training here in Japan and I would tell you if the situation warranted, there's no doubt in my mind they could handle themselves very well," Mixon said.

(Sgt. 1st Class Roy Henry contributed to this article. He writes for U.S. Army Pacific Public Affairs.)