CAMP ZAMA, Japan (Sept. 21, 2018) -- Nine members from the Japan Ground Self-Defense Force concluded a 10-week cooperative work program Sept. 14 alongside U.S. Army Japan Soldiers here, allowing both sides to gain career and personal development skills, the program's lead noncommissioned officer said.

"The CO-OP program is USARJ's premier bilateral engagement program, which started in June 1995 for [the purpose of] enhancing U.S.-Japan bilateral relations and interoperability," said Sgt. 1st Class Clint S. Brown, the program's noncommissioned officer in charge.

Each JGSDF participant was assigned to a unit on Camp Zama and had a U.S. Soldier as a sponsor for the duration of the program. They took part in Army physical training; worked with their sponsors to enhance their English skills; exchanged ideas, doctrines and techniques; and worked together to accomplish shared goals, Brown said.

Gen. Koji Yamazaki, the current JGSDF chief of staff, was a graduate of the very first CO-OP program. The program allows both the JGSDF and U.S. Army participants to learn about the others' organizations, and the experience helps foster bilateral relations and personal and professional friendships for the future, Brown said.

"Having to work closely with the JGSDF in [service of] the defense of Japan, it is imperative that we understand how each other operates," said Brown. "We are working toward a long-term goal of stronger partnerships and relationships for those CO-OP graduates and their sponsors, who will one day be the senior leadership of the JGSDF and the U.S. Army."

Sgt. Hiroyuki Kitade, one of the JGSDF participants, said that although he was initially very anxious about coming into the unfamiliar U.S. Army environment, he was grateful to have met and worked together with Soldiers and other JGSDF participants through the program.

"The most import thing for [maintaining the] future relationship between the JGSDF and the U.S. Army is to know each other," said Kitade. "[Through my experience with this program], I'd like to act as a bridge between the JGSDF and the U.S. Army."

First Lt. Hiroyuki Yanagi, another JGSDF participant, said he was excited for the opportunity not only to meet other CO-OP participants and their sponsors, but also to practice his English-speaking skills and learn about American culture during the program. Yanagi also considered his participation an integral first step toward his dream of becoming a military attaché, he said.

One of the most memorable experiences for Yanagi during his time in the program was climbing the 12,000-foot peak of Mount Fuji with his sponsor, Capt. Brandin Walker, assigned to USARJ. The climb was very tough and he wanted to give up, Yanagi said, but having Walker by his side made it possible and he learned the importance of cooperation.

"I am confident we can accomplish [our respective] missions even if we have different cultures and [speak different] languages," said Yanagi.

Walker echoed his counterpart's impression of the program said the experience he gained through his participation will benefit him as a Soldier and a professional in the future.

"I learned just as much from [Yanagi] as he learned from me," said Walker. "[The CO-OP is] a wonderful program."