YAKIMA TRAINING CENTER, Wash. — Elements of the U.S. Army’s 7th Infantry Division and the Japanese Ground Self-Defense Force concluded Exercise Rising Thunder '21 in a formal ceremony Dec. 14, 2021, at Yakima Training Center, Wash.
The annual exercise is designed to enhance interoperability and combat readiness between the U.S. and Japan and has been a regular occurrence between the two allies since 1994, gaining its official title of Rising Thunder in 1998.
This year’s iteration included units from 2-2 Stryker Brigade Combat Team and 16th Combat Aviation Brigade of the 7th Inf. Div., and 5th Security Force Assistance Brigade – all based at Joint Base Lewis McChord, Wash. They trained alongside Japanese allies from the JGSDF’s 32nd Inf. Regiment and 1st Battle Helicopter Flight Unit.
The bilateral training benefits all participating service members, from the newest soldier to the most senior officers within the two nation’s forces, according to U.S. Army Col. Chad Roehrman, commander of 2-2 SBCT and exercise director for Rising Thunder '21.
“Throughout the exercise, our continued interaction has exposed each to new tactics, techniques and procedures in military tasks, improving our skills at the individual level with weapon employment, and increasing our regiment [and] brigade’s effectiveness at staff planning procedures,” Roehrman said.
Japanese Col. Koichi Koba, commander of Japan’s 32nd Inf. Regiment, highlighted the exercise as a successful test of U.S and Japanese interoperability down to the lowest echelons.
“Learning from a U.S. platoon leader who is full of rich and practical experiences improves our ability to employ platoons, as well as our training procedures, training environment, weapons, vehicles and individual equipment,” Koba said. “It will be very helpful for the JGSDF.”
Japanese forces arrived to the United States in mid-November and conducted reception, staging, and onward movement of their equipment from the Port of Tacoma to YTC alongside 7ID soldiers in preparation for the exercise, which began Dec. 1.
Key combined events during the two-week exercise included firing of the AH-64 Apache helicopter’s Hellfire missile and M230 chain gun, combined mortar training, and a platoon live-fire exercise, culminating in a combined arms live-fire exercise (CALFEX) between the ground forces and helicopter units. This iteration of Rising Thunder is the first time the JGSDF had fired a Hellfire missile at YTC.
Japanese 2nd Lt. Shingo Hayama said preparation for the exercise was complicated and one of the most difficult experiences he had to date as a soldier in the JGSDF.
“To accomplish the mission, I felt we had a lot of cohesion when we trained in such an environment,” Hayama said. “I heard from a U.S. commander that a complicated situation makes units much stronger. I also believe that.”
Rising Thunder is designed to enhance military-to-military relationships at all levels with the U.S. Army’s JGSDF counterparts. It demonstrates the U.S. and Japan’s mutual commitment to deterring adversary aggression and ensuring a free and open Indo-Pacific, united by mutual security interests and values.
“As our two nations shared during this exercise, we each gained greater skills and awareness of how our current systems integrate with each other,” said Roehrman. “It is vital to ensure our systems are clearly conveyed to our strategic partners in order to be most effective on the battlefield.”
Koba said the training improved his units’ capabilities and made them stronger.
“I firmly believe both Japanese and U.S. units and soldiers can become one team by seriously grappling with training and having deep conversations that facilitate mutual understanding.”