KUMAMOTO, Japan - Under the shadow of Kumamoto castle, Soldiers from the 17th Field Artillery Brigade and 47th Combat Support Hospital participating in Orient Shield 2019 take a break and explore Japanese culture, Sept. 19, 2019. OS 19 is a premier U.S. Army and Japan Ground Self-Defense Force bilateral field training exercise that is meant to increase interoperability by testing and refining multi-domain and cross-domain concepts.

"We got the chance to experience the culture and history of Japan which we really haven't been able to do during the exercise," said U.S. Army Maj. Joann Ledoux, a nurse anesthetist, 47th CSH. "But this gave us the opportunity to explore the major landmarks of this city."

The trip started at Kato Shrine which is the local shrine connected to Kumamoto Castle. The castle, which is over five centuries old and is currently under reconstruction, was the hub for experiencing the history and culture of the area. Here, the Soldiers were able to enjoy traditional plays, local cuisine and the hospitality of the Japanese people.

"The Japanese people are really friendly and are great at helping you understand their customs," said Sgt. Matthew Arrington, a pharmacy technician, 47th CSH. "Most people never get to leave the U.S. and experience something like this."

This event wasn't just about seeing the sites in Japan; it also let Soldiers get more familiar with others in their unit and the Japanese populace.

"This trip provided an opportunity for everyone to let their guard down and get to know each other outside of the uniform" said Maj. Daniel C. Davis Jr., medical logistician, 47th CSH. "You get to interact with the locals and even though you may not speak the same language you still get to connect with them in a really special way."

Prior to the trip, none of the Soldiers had an opportunity to visit the city. This trip gave everyone the ability to dive deeper into Kumamoto where they've spent the past two weeks.

"This was so important because in a lot of ways it grounds you to the place you are," said Ledoux. "You get to go out and see the city, learn some of the local customs and experience the wonderful places that your military service will take you."

This trip allowed the Soldiers to wind down as OS 19 began drawing towards its conclusion. For some, who have spent the past few weeks in a high stress field training environment, it provided a well needed break and the opportunity to connect to the city of Kumamoto where a majority of the exercise is taking place.

"It's a massive morale boost," said Arrington. "You work hard and do everything you can in the field, then you get to go out and enjoy the food and relax."

Despite the fun and relaxing appeal of the trip, it also imparted a lesson.

"It's all about breaking down the barriers that separate us," said Davis "It really lets Soldiers know that at the end of the day when you take off the rank and the uniform it doesn't matter what country you're from or what your mission is, we're all the same."