YAKIMA, Wash. - September 4, 2019, a date which will not live in infamy, but will instead will be remembered as the day Soldiers from the Illinois Army National Guard and the Japan Ground Self-Defense Force formed bonds through sports at Rising Thunder 19.

Rising Thunder is an annual training exercise in its 21st year, between the U.S. Army and the Japan Ground Self-Defense Force held at Yakima Training Center in Yakima, Washington. This year, units from the 7th Infantry Division, 33rd Infantry Brigade Combat Team, Illinois Army National Guard, and the 25th Infantry Regiment of the JGSDF participate in the bilateral exercise, held Aug. 30 - Sept. 13. As in years past, the focus has been on increasing both armies' tactical prowess as well as strengthening the partnership between the two nations through friendly social and sporting events.

"I think it's just really neat to see a country our grandfathers and their grandfathers where at war with," said Sgt. David Williams, from Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 2nd Battalion, 130th Infantry Regiment. "And to interact with them on this level its refreshing and gives me hope for the future of our interactions with other countries as well."

American and Japanese troops went head to head in four sports: football, volleyball, soccer and softball. The day finished with an American-style barbecue and a Japanese kumi-daiko drum performance. The games brought the first phase of the two-week training to an end and the barbecue signaled the beginning of a new, joint phase.

"Prior to this event we were all training separately on the same ranges, but training separately," said Sgt. 1st Class Jason Drake, a platoon sergeant with D Co., 2-130th Inf. Reg. "And then this is the event that brings us together and then afterwards we're gonna come together as the same unit and we're going to train together as a group."

Sports day let the troops from both nations see each other as more than just Japanese or American; it showed them the individuals behind the flags.

"It's actually eye-opening how similar we are," said Drake. "We're all out here for the same goal, and that's the protection of our own nation. But, to do it together, that's just phenomenal. In my 24 years (in the military), I've never participated in an event like this, so this is just unbelievable."