YAKIMA, Wash. - The crack of a bat punctuates the summer air, followed by a cheering crowd. Simultaneously, like stereo surround sound, a cheering crowd from the opposite direction. The smell of grilling hamburgers floats in the air. These easily recognizable sounds and smells could emanate from any park, but they are actually coming from a small military installation in central Washington. The cheers, softball hits, and burgers grilling are all part of a recreation day earned by the troops participation in Rising Thunder 19 here at the Yakima Training Center.

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's 33rd Infantry Brigade Combat Team and 108th Sustainment Brigade, and Japan's 25th Infantry Regiment.

The troops have been training hard for more than a week leading up to this day of fun and camaraderie. The well-deserved day off from training was welcomed by both the Japanese Soldiers and Illinois Guardsmen.

"After all this training, you need to let something out," said Spc. Colby Muniz, a infantryman with Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 2nd Battalion, 130th Infantry Brigade, 33rd IBCT. "After all this training, you need to let something out."

Muniz compared the day of sports to a friendly neighborhood game.

"We are playing soccer with the Japanese to relieve some stress," said Muniz.

"We are having fun with the Japanese army," said Pfc. Samatha Hampton, a truck driver with the 1844th Transportation Company, 108th Sustainment Brigade. "It's a good bonding. It's a good culture experience in case we go overseas and we are with them, this is a good environment to start connecting."

"Today was a great way for the soldiers to bond, break up the monotony of training, and a moral booster for soldiers," said Sgt. Aaron Kuhl, a chaplain's assistant with 2-130 Inf. Brig. "Training like this is what makes soldiers want to stay in or even pursue a career. I was able to interact with soldiers from a foreign nation and friendly units that we normally have no contact with," said Kuhl.

Even the friendly forces of the 25th Infantry Regiment had a great time and felt harmony with the Soldiers from the Illinois Guard.

"Even though there was a language barrier," said Cpl. Kento Seki, a radio operator with the 25th Inf. Reg., "through the sport activity, I could feel unity so I could have a lot of fun. So not only players but also supporters actually participated in the game so I could feel unity and the friendly harmonious atmosphere between Americans and Japanese."

Throughout the day, the troops participated in football, volleyball, soccer, and softball.

"I participated in volleyball so I could have a lot of fun," said Sgt. Kazutaka Mori, rifleman with 25th Inf. Reg. "So through communication playing volleyball together with Americans, I could feel American spirit in nature and harmony."

"I did volleyball, I could have a lot of fun," said Sgt. Atsushi Kanai, rifleman with 25th Inf. Reg. "So this opportunity is my first time playing against Americans. So this event, volleyball, I believe I can deepen ties between Japanese and Americans. Through this event, I found one thing that the difference between Japanese and Americans. So I think most American people are very relaxed and very friendly and they take care of us very well and I'm very appreciative about it."