KUMAMOTO, Japan - Three Soldiers participating in exercise Yama Sakura 59 visited a daycare facility Jan. 25 for children of members of the Japan Self Defense Force.

"This is the best thing I've done since I've been here," said 1st Sgt. Myra Austin of Headquarters and Headquarters Battalion, U.S. Army Pacific, Fort Shafter, Hawaii. "It's great to see how kids are the same everywhere."

Cultural exchanges such as this one contribute to USARPAC's integrating Pacific forces because of the cultural understanding they foster between U.S. and Japan forces, she said.

Soldiers participating in Yama Sakura 59 are given opportunities to participate in cultural exchanges with their Japan Ground Self Defense Force counterparts, as well as some opportunities to visit local sights. Soldiers visiting the "Hello Kindergarten" daycare were among a few selected to experience this personal visit.

Schoolchildren from the kindergarten sang songs and played Japanese games with the Soldiers. In turn, the Soldiers sang American songs such as "The Itsy-Bitsy Spider" and "Deep and Wide." Later, they shared games including "London Bridge is Falling Down."

"They really took on to duck-duck-goose," said Sgt. Valery Valtrain, I Corps (Forward), Camp Zama, Japan. "Building relationships is always fun."

Sgt. Rene Blackgoat, 376th Human Resources Company, enjoyed visiting the children.

"They were excited to have us there and show us what they can do. Basically they're like kids all around the world: They love to show what they can do," he said.

Yama Sakura is an annual, bilateral exercise with Japanese forces and the U. S. military. This year's exercise is a simulation-driven, joint-bilateral, command post exercise and is the 29th iteration of the Japan-based exercise series.

Roughly 1,500 U.S. personnel and 4,500 Western Army Soldiers will participate in the exercise. U.S. units include USARPAC, I Corps Forward, and U.S. Army Japan. I Corps, Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash., is also supporting the exercise.

U.S. Army Pacific is the newest and largest Army Service Component Command and provides a cost-effective and powerful headquarters supporting Asia and Pacific forces.