By Sgt. Christopher M. Gaylord, 5th Mobile Public Affairs DetachmentJanuary 28, 2011
CAMP KENGUN, Japan - Life has taken Spc. Jim Stanton down many roads, but through both tribulation and triumph, those roads have twice brought him to Japan for the annual Yama Sakura training exercise.
This time around, however, he's not just learning more about his field artillery job - he's also learning life lessons.
"For one, the Japanese are very patient," said Stanton, a Summerville, S.C., native and fire direction controller with I Corps. "They (Japanese) aren't hostile, and when something irritates them they take a step back. From being here, I've learned to be more patient."
Patience is something that has paid great dividends for Stanton, a man who's several times had no choice but to take a step back from adverse situations, because the path that has led him to Japan for a second time has been anything but smooth.
At 18, Stanton joined the Army in 2000 as an infantryman and accepted his first assignment at Ford Island, Hawaii, pulling security on Army vessels. There, he met April, the Army reservist who he'd quickly fallen in love with.
Less than two years later, Stanton married April, but not long after that he'd be forced to say goodbye.
Just six weeks after April gave birth to their son, Matthew, in May 2003, she was diagnosed with a rapidly progressing form of breast cancer.
Stanton requested a compassionate reassignment to I Corps at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash., as a cook, which would allow him and April to move closer to April's family in Longview, Wash., and closer to first-rate medical care at the Cancer Treatment Center of America in Seattle.
"They did all the treatment there for her that they could, but it wasn't enough," Stanton said.
In August 2004, April lost her battle with cancer.
A single father and distraught over an unimaginable loss, Stanton chose his son over imminent deployment to Iraq or Afghanistan and left the Army.
While maintaining a job in the civilian sector, he met his current wife, Kristy, through a married couple who were not only friends, but his son's sitters during the day.
"They introduced me to Kristy, and it was magic," Stanton said.
The two married in 2005, but a quickly plummeting job market would put Stanton's new family in a financial bind.
In search of a better life for his family, he turned his hopes once more in the direction of the Army, joining as a cook and finding himself a second time at I Corps in late 2006.
After reenlisting to join the artillery career field, he found himself in Sandei, Japan, in late 2007 supporting Yama Sakura 53, while waiting for a school date for Fort Sill, Okla. During YS 53, he worked as a security guard.
While in Japan, Stanton, a small-town country boy from the South, was exposed to a brand new culture and several foreign counterparts.
"I learned a lot and met a lot of great Japanese counterparts," he said.
"Japan is unbelievable," he added. "It is by far the cleanest country I've ever been to, and the people are always so respectful."
After his field artillery school, Stanton spent time in 2008 at Fort Bragg, N.C., and deployed the same year to Afghanistan. Just five months through his tour, his step son fell under serious condition from ulcerative colitis, a type of inflammatory bowel disease.
"He had lost 30 pounds and he was close to dying," Stanton said.
His command sent him home early from Afghanistan.
With minimal support for his wife back in North Carolina and the seriousness of his son's condition looming, Stanton requested a second compassionate reassignment. Not even a month later, fate brought him back to I Corps for a third time.
Less than two weeks ago, he travelled to Camp Kengun with the I Corps in support of YS 59 - his second time in Japan, his second time at Yama Sakura.
This time, Stanton was hand-selected because of his level of performance. He's one of 70 Soldiers chosen from I Corps to augment the U.S. Army Pacific led exercise, the premier event for the Japan Ground Self Defense Force.
"Specialist Stanton is one of those guys you can give a mission-type order, and he'll make it happen for you," said Chief Warrant Officer Robert Seamster, field artillery intelligence officer for I Corps. "He was hand selected to come to Japan because he's one of our best operators."
Since Stanton's last visit, he's learned a few more phrases and he's seen more of the sights.
"I had a little more free time this time to go to Kumamoto Castle and some of the other tours in the area," Stanton said. "Japan is a beautiful country."
This time around, Stanton's mission is different. Instead of checking identification cards and manning an entry point, he's giving crucial firing information to field artillerymen on the ground.
Perhaps more important than any professional development he's receiving, however, is the mindset he's developing.
"Japan has taught me to be more considerate of others and more open-minded to other cultures," Stanton said.
"A lot of Americans need to look at the Japanese culture and take it into consideration," he added. "Here, there isn't nearly as much violence and it's very clean."
Because of Stanton's experiences in Japan, he credits his own adopted belief that anything less is culturally inconsiderate.
"There's no one culture that's any better than any other," he said. "On this big planet we call Earth, there's so much to learn."
"The most important thing the Japanese have taught me is that the best teachers are listeners," he added.