YAKIMA TRAINING CENTER, Washington- Friendly laughs and heartfelt goodbyes filled the air when Soldiers from two nations gathered on a parade field at Yakima Training Center, Washington for the conclusion of Exercise Rising Thunder 18 Sept. 14.

The 20th annual Rising Thunder exercise involved Soldiers from the 1st Battalion, 17th Infantry Regiment, 2nd Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Infantry Division, along with members of the 1st Infantry Regiment, Japan Ground Self-Defense Force.

The goal of the15-day bilateral exercise was to strengthen partnership, improve unit readiness and enhance combined combat capabilities with U.S. and Japan forces. About 300 JGSDF members and 700 U.S. Soldiers participated in the exercise - sharing knowledge and skills through combined arms training, sniper operations and urban live fire assaults.

"We're very fortunate to have this opportunity to participate in Rising Thunder 18 and work with our allies from Japan," said Lt. Col. Donald R. Neal Jr., Commander of the 1-17 IN, 2-2SBCT. "What I enjoyed the most is that we got see more of what joins us, rather than what divides us."

Over the course of the exercise, Soldiers from both forces competed in a sniper competition and shared tactical knowledge to feed one another's strengths and weaknesses.

"We've learned a lot from one another," said Spc. Richard Caldwell, an infantryman with 1-17 IN, 2-2SBCT. "I think it's been a great opportunity for both sides to see how they work and really build off of one another to have that cohesion. It's a chance for all of us to see the bigger picture together."

A sniper from 1-17 IN, 2-2SBCT, Spc. Ahmad Bedair, said learning from his allies helped enhance his skills.

"It's very humbling learning from the Japanese with the different levels of experience they have as snipers," said Bedair as he adjusted the scope on his weapon. "Not only do we learn tactical skill sets from them, but we also learn about their culture and how to be modest about what you know or don't know."

Some soldiers from the JGSDF expressed similar feelings about the experience with U.S. Soldiers during this exercise. Cpt. Hayashi Kazushi, 3rd Company Commander of the 1st Inf. Reg. of the JGSDF, said the events strengthened the Japanese and U.S. alliance.

"It was great working with the U.S. Soldiers and this exercise was a big success," said Kazushi. "There's no special difference between the Japanese and U.S. Soldiers when it comes to training and comradery."
At the closing ceremony, both Commanders spoke on how this exercise has improved their readiness to work as a bi-lateral team.

"This experience reaffirmed that our partnership and alliance is strong and exists through shared values, trust and cooperation," said Neal.