YAKIMA, Wash. -- "Fire mission!" resonates throughout the small encampment of U.S. Soldiers. The quick-reacting crewmembers at the mortar position respond in unison, "Fire mission!" A small team of three scramble like a well-orchestrated NASCAR pit crew.

Yet for some, this is their first time firing a 120mm mortar since graduating from advanced individual training. For these Illinois Guardsmen, it takes traveling to Yakima, Wash., for Rising Thunder 19 to experience this training again.

Rising Thunder 2019 is an annual exercise between the U.S. Army and the Japan Ground Self-Defense Force featuring units from the 7th Infantry Division, the Illinois Army National Guard's 33rd Infantry Brigade Combat Team and 108th Sustainment Brigade, and Japan's 25th Infantry Regiment.

The exercise, held Aug. 28 - Sept. 13 at the Yakima Training Center, consists of company/platoon unilateral and bilateral training events in two phases, culminating with a bilateral live fire exercise.

"We are training in support of Rising Thunder," said Sgt. 1st Class Lance Odum, a mortar platoon sergeant with Headquarters, Headquarters Co., 2nd Battalion, 130 Infantry Regiment, 33rd IBCT. "Specifically, preparing for the culminating event where we are supporting with indirect fire."

The expectations of this mortar team are rising as each day gets closer to the live-fire exercise with their international partners.

"The overarching mission for Rising Thunder includes a number of things like building relationships with the Japanese," said Odum, "but specifically we are trying to put on our A-game when we go to the live-fire exercise with the Japanese."

In order for this crew to perform their best, they employ the proven military practice of crawl, walk, run. For this group, now in the walk phase, they must not only train new Soldiers on the team but also acclimate seasoned Soldiers to new roles.

"Every time we go to the field, we've got a few people that have actually never been to the field," said Odum. "We are always training people in new positions or people have moved up into new positions so this is our first test run with people in new positions and we don't want to get out to the live fire exercise and have anyone doing anything for the first time."

Capt. Andrew Sanchez, the battalion fire support officer for the 2-130th Inf. Reg., knows the importance of crawl, walk, run as he continually steps up the training exercises.

"Today we are conducting a mortar live-fire exercise," said Sanchez. "Yesterday, we ran through a dry fire exercise and today we are stepping it up with actual live ammunition."

Every type of military unit measures their own crawl phase through different events. The dry fire exercises conducted the previous day were the crawl phase for this particular combat unit.

Sanchez continued, "We are doing a bilateral training exercise with the Japanese Ground Self Defense Force so today is our way of prepping for the upcoming bilateral exercise."

Once the walk phase is complete, the run phase will be the single-day, live-fire exercise challenging elements from the 33rd IBCT and the 25th Inf. Reg.

"Today helps us prepare and be ready for the overarching mission so when we go into the bilateral exercise we go in at 100% trained," said Sanchez. "We have a couple of rounds downrange, we've done dry fire missions, we've done live fire missions; so we get to the bilateral exercise, it's like second nature."