KAMI-FURANO, Japan -- Since World War II concluded, the United States has worked to build a better relationship with Japan. In 1960, the U.S. and Japan signed the Treaty of Mutual Cooperation and Security, a binding agreement for both countries to support each other from enemy attack. United States Army Japan facilitates a two-week Orient Shield exercise in Japan each fall consisting of approximately 400 National Guard members from six states, working alongside approximately 200 Soldiers from the Japanese military.

"This is a great opportunity for a Reserve Component to work with one of our allies," said Lt. Col. Kevin Fujimoto, of St.Louis, Mo., the commander of 1st Battalion, 138th Infantry Regiment, with the Missouri Army National Guard. "This is great training with a professional organization with years of institutional knowledge."

The 200 Missouri Army National Guard Soldiers have been training for nearly two years for this unique experience.

"By coming here, we meet a huge contractual obligation to support our allies," Fujimoto said. "The Japanese have a modern, professional military and it is great to share our experiences."

The focus of the exercise is developing tactical, bilateral operations and war fighting skills between the U.S. and Japanese militaries.

"Our main goal is to enhance the interoperability between the U.S. and Japan," said Col. Takeshi Hirano, of Hiroshima, the regimental commander of the Japanese Ground Self-Defense Force 26th Infantry Regiment. "During this training we are learning the differences and similarities between the U.S. and Japan."

Most of the Soldiers with 1st Battalion volunteered for the training opportunity. Many said they volunteered because the exercise was a unique, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

"This is an awesome experience, to see some of their tactics and for them to see ours," said Sgt. Christopher Kiel, of Des Moines, Iowa, a member of the Missouri unit. "Even though there is a language barrier, we have received some language training and we have interpreters to help us."

Some of the Soldiers have worked with the Japanese military during other training exercises, or were stationed in Japan as part of the active duty Army.

"It is an amazing opportunity for our Soldiers to have a cultural exchange with (the Japanese)," said Sgt. 1st Class Wes Blanscet, of Lee's Summit, Mo., who was stationed in Japan in 1999. "I think it is extremely important for my Soldiers to get the experience I did. We are all people; it is just interesting to see how the different cultures interact."

U.S. and Japanese Soldiers have been participating in Orient Shield exercises since 1997. Orient Shield 11 officially kicked off Nov. 2 and concludes Nov. 11. Japanese Soldiers are training with approximately 200 Missouri Army National Guard Infantry Soldiers. National Guardsmen from New Hampshire, Illinois, Michigan, California, Nevada, and active duty Soldiers from the U.S. Army in Japan are supporting this year's exercise.

During opening ceremony remarks on Nov. 2, Fujimoto said, "Together we can accomplish more than either one of us could apart."