KUMAMOTO, JAPAN - U. S. Soldiers and members of the Japan Ground Self Defense Force participating in Yama Sakura 59 combined forces Jan. 29 to encourage children at a nearby orphanage.

"Our goal for this cultural exchange is to uplift the spirits of both cultures and introduce everyone to the 'Ichi Dan' mentality, a Japanese phrase meaning one team," said Capt. Clifford F. Neuman, chaplain for the 35th Combat Support Sustainment Battalion.

Yama Sakura is an annual bilateral training exercise between JGSDF and U.S. troops. The objective of this operation is to exchange military techniques, ideas and culture while strengthening bilateral relationships in order to meet U.S. Army Pacific's goal of more complete Pacific integration.

In an effort to overcome language barriers and build cohesion, cultural exchange opportunities are a vital part of the training schedule. In addition to classes on Japanese customs, a number of tours are arranged to promote inter-cultural interaction. A perennial favorite is the opportunity to visit local orphanages to brighten a child's day with fun games.

"During the YS exercise we visited five different orphanages, but this is the first time we have come to this one," said Sgt. Stephen Freeman, a chaplain's assistant for the 35th Combat Support Sustainment Battalion.

Freeman worked with JGSDF Warrant Officer Hisafumi Okawa and JGSDF Sgt. 1st Class Shimizu Seishiro to arrange a three-hour visit to the local orphanage close to Camp Kengun, Japan, the training site for YS59. According to Freeman, his Japanese counterparts were instrumental in organizing this visit because they all worked together with Yutaka Ishida, the caretaker of the orphanage to make this trip possible.

According to Ishida, the orphanage cares for an average of 55 children between the ages of four and 17. The children are well cared for and enjoy hot meals everyday. Throughout the week, about 10 teachers volunteer their time to instruct the children.

In addition to being a place of refuge for orphans, the center also provides foster care. The children in the foster care program attend school during the week and spend weekends with their families.

The children who remained at the orphanage greeted the service members with smiles. The visit began with introductions and guidelines, then kicked off with several games of soccer, basketball and baseball. Children of all ages were occupied with a fun event, from hand games to flying kites, while some of the youngest ones were just happy to be held. The day ended with everyone gathering indoors to share farewells over coffee and snacks.

According to the personnel who organized the trip, the mission was successful.

"The language barrier was conquered by everyone's good attitudes," said Freeman