JOINT BASE LEWIS- MCCHORD, Wash. - For the Soldiers of the 17th Field Artillery Brigade, months of hard work and preparation culminate this week with the execution of Yama Sakura 69 from Dec. 5 to Dec. 10, 2015. For the artillery brigade this means, conducting split operations between a team in Japan and the brigade headquarters at Joint Base Lewis-McChord.

Yama Sakura, Japanese for "Mountain Cherry Blossom," dates back to 1982. Since then, Yama Sakura has been an annual, bilateral Command Post Exercise that simulates Japanese-US military operations required to defend Japan. Every winter, one of five regional Japan Ground Self-Defense Force (JGSDF) Armies is joined by U.S. Pacific Command to conduct the exercise in Japan.

The mission of the 17th FA Bde is to train and prepare for combat. This means to be prepared to deploy to any area of operations in order to plan, synchronize, and execute combined, joint fires and effects while integrating attached ground and air maneuver forces. Its mission is especially significant when working bilateral efforts with the Japanese Army during the Yama Sakura exercise. Planning and communication is of the essence, synchronization becomes critical, and understanding bilateral efforts becomes crucial during execution.

"One of the most significant lessons learned through this exercise has been seeing how my electronic warfare section is integrated into the brigade," said Warrant Officer 2 Harry Morgan, Electronic Warfare Officer, 17th FA Bde. "I see how my job and position integrates with many of the other sections, this is training we don't have the opportunity to have on a daily basis," Morgan said.

The exercise has provided Soldiers of the 17th FA Bde the opportunity to learn from the planning phase just as much as the execution phase. "Leading to Yama Sakura 69, the brigade participated in planning cells, conferences, mission analysis, and heavily focused on developing 'intent' for our missions. Our approach during the execution phase has had to change based on circumstance, but the intent we previously developed has helped us achieve our ultimate goals," said Capt. Joseph Thatcher, Battle Captain and Fire Control Officer, 17th FA Bde. "Those same systems we previously established have helped us support the Japanese Army in meeting their intent, which is all part of the learning experience," Thatcher said.

In addition to the brigade having to internally organize and synchronize with their Japanese counterparts, the 17th FA Bde is working and coordinating with the 65th FA Bde out of the Utah Army National Guard. "The sharing of tactics, techniques, and procedures, as well as building relationships between our brigade staffs is a significant achievement and supports the continual growth of our organizations," said Maj. Mike Blue, Executive Officer, 17th FA Bde. "This is our way of supporting the 'Total Army' concept and we are striving to get the most out of the opportunity," said Blue.

Here at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, the day-to-day operations are being conducted out of the Mission Command Training Center. There are multiple shifts in order to maintain a 24-hour operations center and for the duration of the exercise Yama Sakura will be at the center of the brigades operations.

"This is my fourth exercise in the year I have been assigned with the 17th FA Bde," said Pvt. Tyler Bergin, Fire Support Specialist, 17th FA Bde. Bergin assisted the brigade in a spectrum of operations required to stand-up the tactical operation center at the MCTC. "The main lesson I am taking from Yama Sakura 69 is seeing how it has broadened my horizon in understanding the role of the brigade and seeing the role of other Soldiers in my unit," said Bergin.

Inside the tent, the Thunderbolt Soldiers analyze data being provided by the Japanese Army and by fellow 17th FA Bde Soldiers currently in Japan. The phones ring consistently, offering new information, and computer screens flash updates and new requirements. "Through this exercise we provide our allies with the confidence that we can support them effectively and efficiently, and we learn the same from them," said Thatcher. "This is our chance to directly continue to enhance our relationship with the Japanese Army and to reflect on the way we can assist them to fight and win wars," said Thatcher.