America's First Corps concluded its bilateral command post exercise, Yama Sakura 73, Dec. 11, after two weeks of deepening mutual understanding, improving communication skills and strengthening military interoperability between U.S. and Japanese forces.
For 35 years, the United States has been demonstrating its commitment to its strategic alliance and military partnership with Japan through Yama Sakura.

This year's exercise included 11 major commands and spread across 23 global locations. With approximately 7,000 military participants - 1,300 U.S. and 5,500 Japanese - Yama Sakura is one of the largest bilateral command post exercises in the Pacific region.

Yama Sakura, along with other exercises conducted in the region, are critical to U.S. readiness.

"The Japan-U.S. alliance is the cornerstone of our Indo-Pacific strategy," said William F. Hagerty IV, ambassador to Japan. "Yama Sakura encompasses more than just scenario-based computer training. We are working side by side with our counterparts, we are learning their culture, appreciating the differences that make us more versatile and stronger. These exercises build trust, understanding and confidence in a way that not many other things can."

Some of that confidence comes from not just the scenario based training, but also with cultural exchange opportunities including touring the after-effects of the 2011 Tsunami that hit Tohoku, cultural performances, calligraphy classes, cooking, concerts and visits to local schools.

"I think for the soldiers to come out here, whether it's your first time or whether you've been here numerous times, it always feels like a new experience getting out in the local community," said Sgt. Maj. Randy Randolph, I Corps public affairs sergeant major. "I think it's really important we do this because in order to build partnerships with the Japanese you have to understand where they are coming from. Things like this help us understand the people, and building that trust and relationship is really important."

It has been five years since the Japan Ground Self-Defense Force's Northeastern Army last hosted the exercise and the 10th overall exercise hosted here in Sendai.

"Yama Sakura continues to strengthen our trust and friendship with the service members of Japan, and in turn will cement the future of our U.S.-Japan alliance," said Lt. Gen. Gary Volesky, commanding general for I Corps. "As a combined joint task force, we have an opportunity to improve our interoperability through shared understanding."

This exercise was carried out under a training scenario where a hypothetical, aggressive nation launched an offensive operation to invade Japan. Throughout this exercise, both Japan and the U.S. land components took the initiative as they each fought under their respective commands to practice their bilateral operation procedures and enhance interoperability.

One of the major highlights that distinguished Yama Sakura 73 from previous Yama Sakura exercises was the planning and execution of a bilateral airborne and air assault operation.

"This was the first time in years - and one of the most important events of the exercise - that we planned and executed a bilateral airborne and air assault operation," said Volesky. "The bilateral operation was executed onto two objectives simultaneously, the first time this has been done in quite some time."

Despite the obvious challenges, both personally and professionally, that this type of large scale operation faces, there were many achievements.

"On a professional level, we have achieved a greater mutual understanding of each other," said Canadian Army Maj. Scott LeBlanc, G-5 planner for Army I Corps. "But it was the common interaction at the individual personnel level that helped strengthen the alliance, because now we've developed friendships with our Japanese counterparts."

Another significant achievement was the completion of a bilateral sustainment rehearsal.

"We were able to describe how American forces were flowing in to support this fight and how we were fighting so we all had a complete understanding of all of the sustainment capability on the battlefield," said Capt. Joshua Weintraub, I Corps logistics operations officer.

One challenge is how the battlefield continues to change. As threats continue to increase, multi-domain battlefields become more important. Training for threats on all level has become a priority in these exercises.

"We have land, maritime, air, space and cyber domains," said LaBlanc. "As a result of what we see in terms of potential threats, as well with the emergence of new technologies, we want to be able to capture all of these capabilities and create synergy between all of these capabilities. We want to exploit space and cyber, and of course the other domains, to figure out how to make these capabilities work together to achieve a tactical advantage over the enemy."

And while the goal of Yama Sakura will continue to enhance strong alliances and a safer Japan, it also serves to teach U.S. forces to embrace cultural differences.

"I've worked with other armies before, but I can honestly say that I have not seen a staff work as hard as the Japanese to make sure they have their information," said Weintraub. "Their attention to detail is beyond what I could ever hope to achieve. They go 100 percent on everything."

While planning will soon begin for Yama Sakura 75 that will take place one year from now in Hokkaido, everyone was commenting on the success of Yama Sakura 73.

"I want to thank everyone for their support that made this a great exercise, from our great joint servicemembers to Lt. Gen. Yamanoue and the great Northeast Army, and especially my Soldiers who truly made this an exceptional exercise," said Lt. Gen. Volesky.