YAKIMA, Wash. - Before the exercise even begins, their weapons are perfectly in line. Without orders, the noncommissioned officers count the ammunition and distribute to their troops. Communications specialists conduct radio checks while medics take inventory of their kits. By 1300 hours, the boots of the 25th Infantry Division, Japan Ground Self-Defense Force, step off toward the Digital Multipurpose Range Complex at the Yakima Training Center in Yakima, Wash. There, the squad-sized elements will conduct military operations on urban terrain as part of Rising Thunder 19, a two-week capstone event culminating with a bilateral live-fire exercise.
"I was looking forward to coming here because the training lanes are very big," said Sgt. Aizawa Shuya, a motor pool NCO with the 25th Inf. Reg. "We can do the training here we can't do in Japan. So I am excited today."
The Japanese troops bring with them expert precision and professionalism, assets that make their learning curve incredibly steep. What challenged them on day one a week ago looks like second-nature to them now as they navigate the mountainous terrain with ease.
While the training and environment are new, the vehicles and weapons are their own as the JGSDF employs their Howa Type 89 rifles and Sumitomo Mini Mitrailleuse "MINIMI" 5.56mm Machine Gun. Weapon-familiarity plays a huge role in the ease of learning new military techniques.
"It is piece of cake," said Aizawa, holding his Howa rifle. "I love Yakima. My favorite part is the shoot house because the JGSDF doesn't have a shoot house and we can't train like that there."
The shoot house is a special, controlled structure for training the basics of room clearing, breaching, and target engagement. It's what allowed the JGSDF, with the guidance of their U.S. allies from the Illinois Army National Guard, to graduate to the urban operations training in the brushland of central Washington.
"Training with our allied forces helps build the interoperability of our forces and makes us a more dynamic military," said Capt. Jordan Legris, commander of D. Co., 2nd Battalion, 130th Infantry Regiment, Illinois Army National Guard. "Training with other militaries also allows us to learn from them. At the end of the day, we're all Soldiers. We all train on relatively the same battle tasks and drills. However, we have different techniques in doing those drills and accomplishing our mission."
Through instruction and repetition, the Japanese troops learned the basics of U.S. urban warfare. They'll take these building blocks and develop them over the next week until the culminating exercise Sept. 11, where they'll capitalize on all they've learned an apply it in real time.
"We've gotten nothing but professionalism from them," said Cpl. Wesley Washburn, an infantry team leader with A Co., 1st Battalion, 178th Infantry Regiment, Illinois Army National Guard. "They're very dedicated to what they do. Professionalism is above and beyond and they've brought that to us and it's been a good opportunity getting to work with them."