SAGAMIHARA, Japan - Two air defense members from the Japan Ground Self-Defense Force concluded a 10-week cooperative work program Dec. 13 alongside 38th Air Defense Artillery Soldiers at Camp Zama, allowing both sides to gain professional and personal development skills.

"The co-op work program was developed by U.S. Army Japan in 1995 as a premier bilateral engagement program to enhance U.S.-Japan relations and interoperability," said Capt. Phillip H. Le, air defense artillery fire directions control officer, 38th ADA Bde. and program participant. "This cycle was unique in the fact that U.S. and Japan air defenders participated for the first time, creating a bond between partner forces with similar capabilities and mission."

Each JGSDF participant was assigned to a unit throughout USARJ and had a U.S. Soldier as a sponsor for the duration of the program.

"Co-op program participants with JGSDF took part in Army physical training sessions; worked with sponsors to enhance English skills; exchanged ideas and techniques; and worked together to accomplish shared goals, including recent training exercises, competitions, and knowledge boards," said Sgt. 1st Class Galen E. Corbell, air defense battle management systems operator and program participant. "As a sponsor, I learned many Japanese customs and courtesies first hand; differences and similarities in how our units function; and made a life-long friend."

The U.S.-Japan alliance is the cornerstone of efforts to ensure a free and open Indo-Pacific region. When it comes to air defense, working closely with JGSDF counterparts becomes a collaborative effort to defend Japan.

"Working closely with the 38th ADA Bde. these past few weeks allowed me to understand the importance of knowing how each other operates in the defense of our countries against real-world air and missile ballistic threats," said 1st Lt. Kenta Kita, air defense officer, 7th Antiaircraft Artillery Regiment, JGSDF and program participant. "This experience has opened my eyes to the many similarities we have as service members despite our cultural differences."

Sgt. 1st Class Seigo Harumoto, communications noncommissioned officer in charge, 3rd Antiaircraft Artillery Regiment, JGSDF, said that although he was initially anxious about coming into the unfamiliar U.S. Army environment, he was grateful to have met and worked together with Soldiers and other JGSDF participants through the program.

"The most important thing for maintaining future relationships between the JGSDF and the U.S. Army is to know each other," said Harumoto. "Through my experience these past few weeks, on and off duty, I believe we have learned a lot from each other and can maintain this relationship for years to come."

One of the most memorable experiences for Harumoto during his time in the program was the brigade's Situational Training Exercise at Camp Fuji with his sponsor.

"My first time training with the U.S. Army was during the STX lanes and it was a great learning experience from start to finish," Haramoto recalls. "I learned a lot about how the U.S. Army plans and coordinates training from Sgt. 1st Class Corbell and was able to compete against him during the confidence obstacle course."

U.S. Army and JGSDF members took home more than a better understanding of how each operates in their respective fields, they developed lasting ties.

"I learned so much about the operational side of how U.S. Army air defense works and gained an even better mutual understanding with the U.S. Soldiers here and my sponsor, Capt. Le," said Kita. "I will take what I learned back to my unit and the lasting friendship as well."