JOINT BASE ELMENDORF-RICHARDSON, Alaska -- It's a rare experience being involved in a traditional celebration of another country.
Soldiers from U.S. Army Alaska were given that experience when they were invited to celebrate the Diwali festival Nov. 5 with soldiers of the Indian army at the Wilderness Inn dining facility on Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Alaska.
Diwali is an annual five-day festival in India. The third day is celebrated as the main Diwali festival called "The Festival of Lights."
The celebration is in conjunction with the combined training exercise Yudh Abhyas 2010 that serves as an opportunity and to strengthen operational ties between the armies of India and United States and create personal relationships as well.
"This event helps blend our culture with their culture and we get to actually witness what one of their celebrations is like, and it's wonderful," said Spc. Troy Reed, topographic analyst, Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 4th Brigade Combat Team (Airborne), 25th Infantry Division. "It has made me feel closer to them. Instead of just thinking of them as people from a different country, I think of them as companions and friends."
The event started off with an explanation of the meaning of Diwali and then proceeded to an exchange of sweets, dancing and dinner.
"The food was delicious and their sweets are different. They are strange, really sweet, and I loved them," Reed said.
The celebration typically includes candle lighting, the exchange of gifts and sweets, and fireworks. Soldiers also learned that their Indian counterparts have skills that go beyond drill and ceremony as dancing is a central part of Diwali festivities.
"The Indians are a lot more festive than I thought they would be," Reed said. "I was expecting a more formal style dinner, but instead there was dancing. Everybody had fun, and it was just an overall good time."
Having the ability to mix a diversity of languages, traditions and customs is beneficial for the experiences it gives each individual, and for the bond it creates between two countries, Reed said.
"Exercises like this, where we can work with our allies, are extremely important, because together we need to know what each other are capable of," he added. "We also need to be able to work together as a team. Without that, we will not succeed in any mission with them."
Yudh Abhyas is a regularly-scheduled bilateral, conventional-forces training exercise, sponsored by U.S. Army, Pacific and the Indian Army. The exercise is designed to promote cooperation between the two militaries to develop U.S. Army Pacific and USARAK relationships with India and promote interoperability through combined Military Decision Making Process, battle tracking and maneuvering forces, and exchange of tactics, techniques and procedures.
During the exercise, U.S. Soldiers and their Indian counterparts will conduct a Command Post Exercise, airborne operations training, marksmanship and tactical training and take part in cultural exchanges to improve partnership readiness and cooperation between the armies of India and the United States.
Follow Yudh Abhyas 2010 on the web at http://www.usarpac.army.mil/ya10, Facebook http://www.facebook.com/pages/US-Army-Pacific/113619942022854 and Flickr http://www.flickr.com/photos/usarpac/sets/72157625288366066.