YAKIMA, Wash. - The sweat rolls down the face of the young private. Breathing heavily, he listens intently as he told how to tiger pace as he is standing in place to avoid being hit by an enemy sniper. His leader and instructor is a sergeant first class, who speaks with wisdom and confidence. As the sun beats down on the troops waiting to maneuver closer to the objective, they hear "contact 12 o'clock, 300 meters." The squad scrambles for cover as they raise their weapons to return fire. Pop - pop - pop. This not the start of an infamous wartime story, but the start of the next phase of training for the Illinois Army National Guardsmen during Rising Thunder 19.

Rising Thunder 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, and the Japan Ground Self-Defense Force. The exercise runs Aug. 28 - Sept. 13 this year here at the Yakima Training Center.

The pop-pop-pop is more of a bang-bang-bang but on a diet. It is actually blank rounds fired to create realism for the next phase of the platoon's crawl-walk-run training.

"Today we are doing the walk phase of the crawl, walk, run," said Cpl. Wesley Washburn, a team leader with A Co., 1st Battalion, 178th Infantry Regiment, 33rd Infantry Brigade Combat Team. "We are speeding things up. Usually in the walk phase, we are starting to use blank rounds, make things a little more realistic."

Since blank rounds mimic live rounds, they're meant to add more realness to the training environment.

"With the blank rounds, things are going to be loud," said Washburn. "The adrenaline is going to get going little bit more, trying to put a little more realism into it."

Washburn reminds us of the importance of crawl, walk, run. On this day, they're putting their basic skills to use to make a function, which will in turn create an operation in the final phase of training.

"It gives a chance to train the Soldiers starting from the simplest, the slowest that you can get to where you are even talking through what you are going to do," said Washburn. "And then you add components with the walk. And even more components when its live and full movement with the run phase."

Because of the transition to more dangerous training scenarios, the walk phase is not taken lightly as it also will measure the safety aspects of what was learned so far and how that will continue into the future live fire exercise.

"Safety is our number one priority when it comes to training," said 2nd Lt. Andrew Shinsako, platoon leader for 1st Platoon, A Co., 1-178th Inf. Reg. "The walk phase allows Soldiers to practice what they will be doing during the live fire and allows leaders to evaluate the readiness of the Soldiers in preparation for the live fire."

Because of the added complexity of training with Japan's 25th Inf. Reg., both groups have to advance in the training together to achieve the final live fire exercise that will be their culminating run phase.

"Also with the walk phase we are starting to integrate our movement with the Japanese forces that we have been training with over the past few weeks," said Washburn. "It gives us the opportunity to learn from each other."

Even though the country's armies have been training together over the first portion of Rising Thunder 19, the large platoon elements have not shared the same training lane. This is because of the number of individuals involved and the strategic element of the training exercise.

"Operation Rising Thunder is the maneuver we are doing today and the overall goal is to strengthen the bond we already have the Japanese army as they our ally," said Washburn. "It's not everyday you get to come out and learn from these guys, trying to bond with them and create relationships with them even though we have a difference in language barrier," said Washburn.