By Staff Sgt. Jaime L. Witt, 139th Mobile Public Affairs DetachmentNovember 6, 2012
AIBANO TRAINING AREA, JAPAN -- Soldiers from 1st Battalion, 14th Infantry Regiment, 2nd Stryker Brigade Combat Team out of Schofield Barracks, Hawaii, along with Japanese Ground Self Defense Force (JGSDF) members from the 33rd Infantry Regiment, 10th Division, Middle Army, completed a cumulative field training exercise (FTX) on Nov. 3 during the 13th iteration of Orient Shield, a bilateral training exercise taking place at Aibano Training Area, Shiga Prefecture, Japan. Orient Shield is designed to enhance interoperability between U.S. and Japanese units at the lowest level, emphasizing combat readiness of both forces while strengthening their relationship.
U.S. Soldiers and JGSDF members exchanged information over the last two weeks, learning about each other's tactics, techniques and capabilities. The culminating FTX, which ran from ran from Nov. 1 through Nov. 3, was designed to encompass all tasks and topics trained on during the functional phase of training.
During the FTX, , the 1-14th, in conjunction with their Japanese counterparts, was to clear Aibano Training Area of an enemy that had invaded the area, said 1st Lt. Eric Collett, a platoon leader with the 66th Engineer Company, 1st Battalion, 14th Infantry Regiment.
Although the bilateral force faced challenges during the first phase of the operation including heavy casualties from enemy indirect fire, they bounced back to push through and destroy the enemy objective together a full 24 hours before anticipated.
"I think we did very well given the tough terrain and conditions out there," said Cpt. Kyle Burns, Commander of Company C, 1-14th. "Overall, we overcame and completed the mission."
Burns attributed the success of the mission to effective coordination with their Japanese counterparts. He said each side had embedded liaisons, called LNOs, which enabled communication to occur via radios.
"During the actual attack on our objective, the way it was designed was for both forces to launch simultaneously," said Burns. "Due to the fact that we had those LNOs embedded, we were able to talk not only the night prior, but also up to and through the attack."
2nd Lt. Steven Hovdesven, 4th Platoon Leader with Company A, 1-14th Infantry, said he found working with another nation's defense force to be a rewarding experience.
"This is a very unique training opportunity for the Soldiers here," he said. "Many of them have never worked with a foreign army before. Just getting over the language barrier, working with the interpreters has helped me tremendously and especially has helped the Soldiers who have never deployed before."
Lt. Col. Jonathan Larsen, Battalion Commander with 1-14th, praised members of both forces during the bilateral after action review on Monday.
"I'm very proud of all the units that participated," Larsen said. "I'm very proud to have served with the 33rd Infantry. I'm also very proud of the enemy we faced. You were very capable and you taught us a lot."
Col. Koji Furuya, Commander of the 33rd Infantry Regiment, echoed Larsen's sentiment and said the JGSDF also learned many things.
"The 1st Battalion, 14th Regiment has experienced real warfare and they have excellent capabilities to fight," he said. "We need to keep practicing and improving ourselves so that we will be able to be shoulder-to-shoulder with our 1-14th brothers in the future."
Lt. Col. Jonathan Larsen, Battalion Commander of the 1-14th, emphasized the importance of field training exercises during the bilateral after action review Monday.
"These exercises only make us better if we learn from our mistakes," he said.
As the U.S. defense strategy pivots to the Pacific region, exercises like Orient Shield play an increasing important role in developing the capabilities necessary to maintain peace and security in the region.
"Until this point, the JGSDF has been devised and trained to defend Japanese soil," Furuya said. "In recent years with the turmoil around Japan and around the world, we have been branching out with missions outside Japan."
The FTX was geared toward defending Japan, but the strategies emphasized during training can be used outside of Japan in global situations, Furuya said.
The training was mutually beneficial with both sides learning from each other, Burns said.
"Anytime you take units out of their comfort zone, working with different nations, there's always great training value," he said. "The guys can learn from something that they have not become accustomed to. I think throughout this entire exercise, not only the FTX, but the overall Orient Shield 2012, both forces, the Japanese and Americans, have learned a tremendous amount from one another."
Although the exchange of tactics and techniques was a valuable part of the training, the bonds formed during the exercise are priceless.
"I hope that we will never forget the friendship and camaraderie that we've built here," said Furuya. "Hopefully this will carry on till one day we have a mission together and we're standing shoulder-to-shoulder."
"I am very honored to be able to stand side-by-side my counterpart Col. Larsen of the 1-14th and I hope that we will be able to fight together someday in the future," he said.
Orient Shield 12 is slated to end Nov. 7.