Japan, U.S. forces unite in Yama Sakura 71
Lt. Gen. Kiyoshi Ogawa, commanding General of the Western Army, Japan Ground Self Defense Force, and Lt. Gen. Stephen Lanza, I Corps commanding General, shake hands following a successful Yama Sakura exercise in Camp Kengun, Japan Dec. 13, 2016.
Ex... (Photo Credit: U.S. Army)

CAMP KENGUN, Kumamoto City, Kumamoto prefecture - The Japan Ground Self-Defense Force and U.S. Army united together for a bilateral training exercise known as Yama Sakura 71, Dec. 1-13 on Camp Kengun, Japan.

The purpose of the exercise is to enhance U.S. and Japan's combat readiness and interoperability while strengthening bilateral relationships and demonstrating U.S. resolve to support the security interests of allies and partners in the Indo-Asia-Pacific region.

"Bilateral joint operations are not typical, but they are the way of the future," said U.S. Army Pacific commanding general, Gen. Robert B. Brown.

"From disasters to potential adversaries, we must work together and we must continue to build this alliance," said Brown. "We won't be doing anything alone."

I Corps and Western Army were the lead forces in this year's exercise, which is annually co-sponsored by U.S. Army Pacific and the Japan Ground Self-Defense Force.

Yama Sakura underscores the strength of the close, long-standing relationship the U.S. has with Japan and the JGSDF. The exercise demonstrates continuing commitment to deepen our strong ties and mutual friendship.

"Yama Sakura was a tremendous exercise, not just because it was a great simulation, but because it shows what is possible with cooperation and the ability of our team to work together," said Lt. Gen. Stephen R. Lanza, I Corps commanding general. "It is a bedrock of trust that unites us."

While the exercise has clear goals of enhancing U.S. and Japanese combat readiness and interoperability, there also exists indirect goals, said Maj. Gen. James Pasquarette, U.S. Army Japan commanding general.

"The unstated directives are to take an already strong relationship with the U.S. Army and the Japan Ground Self Defense Force and make it even deeper and stronger through this huge exercise," said Pasquarette. "We're making an already strong relationship even deeper and stronger."

Overall, the exercise comprised of approximately 1,600 U.S. personnel worldwide to include simulations, assessments and support personnel, as well as about 4,600 JGSDF service members.

Since its inception in 1982, Yama Sakura has focused on the development and refinement of the JGSDF and U.S. Army Pacific's efforts in the areas of bilateral planning, coordination and interoperability.

For the last three years, Australian Army officers have attended Yama Sakura as observers. The plan is to draft reports on how to include Australian forces into the exercise in the future, said Australian Army Maj. Gen. Gregory C. Bilton, U.S. Army Pacific deputy commanding general of operations.

"We're evolving the exercise each year, making it more complex," said Bilton. "Incorporating more joint aspects is an important part of moving toward more realistically practicing contingencies that might revolve around the defense of Japan."

Like all training exercises, Yama Sakura is ever changing and evolving.

"This is my third YS, I've seen that evolution of the exercise occur. I've seen both sides develop and incorporate the joint aspects more deeply with better levels of integration," said Bilton.

For the future, leadership has high hopes of the strong relationship between the U.S. Army and JGSDF deepening and interoperability increasing.

"I have watched General Lanza and General (Kiyoshi) Ogawa, the two (Joint Task Force) commanders and I'm confident they're getting great experiences making both their staffs more capable and ready if called upon," said Pasquarette, who also served as an exercise director.

In the end, both fighting forces are walking away from the exercise with a stronger bond and better training.

"I feel it's my responsibility to spread these lessons and the fruit of these (exercises) all over the Japan Ground Self-Defense Force," said JGSDF Lt. Gen. Kiyoshi Ogawa, Western Army commanding general. "We trained a lot," he added with a smile.

"I want to thank General Ogawa for his leadership, his warfighting spirit and the fact that he kept us focused on what really matters, and that's fighting and winning," Lanza said. "I look forward to continue working with the Japanese Ground Self-Defense Forces to conduct joint operations."

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