TOKYO -- Hundreds of fists punched the sky, mingling with the warm wisps of breath in the cold morning air, as a resounding cry of "Together to the future!" roared across the band square in both English and Japanese.
With that, U.S. Army I Corps and Japan Ground Self-Defense Force (JGSDF) service members kicked off Yama Sakura 77 at an opening ceremony held in Camp Asaka, Japan, Dec. 9, 2019.
"I'm honored and humbled to fight alongside you," said Lt. Gen. Gary J. Volesky, I Corps commanding general. "Today, the U.S. and Japan commit well over 1,000 (service members) to Yama Sakura, as it stands as the premiere joint bilateral exercise conducted between U.S. forces and the Japan Ground Self-Defense Force."
The exercise's goal is to enhance combat readiness and interoperability between the U.S. Army and JGSDF, with both forces working together to overcome virtual adversaries, replicating a multi-domain and cross-domain through real-time simulated scenarios.
Each year the exercise location rotates between the five regional armies of the JGSDF. This year the opening ceremony was held by the Eastern Army, based out of Camp Asaka.
JGSDF Western Army, at Camp Kengun, Kumamoto, is also participating with 40th Infantry Division in Yama Sakura 77.
During the ceremony, Volesky and Lt. Gen. Takayuki Onozuka, commanding general of the JGSDF Eastern Army, championed a spirit of cooperation and trust between both nations, promoting the exchange of tactics, techniques and experiences to ensure the defense and support of Japan and regional allies.
"Our (service members) are the strength of our armies, and our ability to operate together makes them more effective," said Volesky. "We are committed to this strategic alliance between our great nations, and I am confident our units will learn and grow from one another to build a partner capacity capable of deterring any adversary."
Since 1982, Yama Sakura exercises have highlighted the strong bond between the two nations and U.S. support of allies within the Indo-Pacific region. Through their continuous evolution, the U.S. and Japan have forged a relationship built on a shared vision of peace, prosperity, democracy and regional stability.
"What we do during this exercise will become our legacy," Onozuka said. "I ask all of you to fight shoulder to shoulder, so that we may achieve a great victory and conclude this exercise with a strong sense of accomplishment."
Yama Sakura 77 is scheduled to run until Dec. 16.