CAMP SENDAI, JAPAN (Dec. 6, 2012) -- In grand pomp and circumstance, service members marched onto the parade field Dec. 6, for the opening ceremony of Yama Sakura 63.

Yama Sakura is a bilateral training exercise held twice a year with members of the Japanese Ground Self Defense Force and the U.S. military. Yama Sakura began 30 years ago. It is designed to enhance the combat readiness and interoperability between the two nations. The two countries, while quite different in culture and language, exchange ideas, tactics, techniques and military experiences during the exercise, now in its 31st iteration.

Additionally, it demonstrates the U.S. resolve to support the security interests of friends and allies in the region.

U.S. Army Pacific Commander Lt. Gen. Francis Wiercinski and Northeastern Army Commander Lt. Gen. Toshiaki Tanaka opened the ceremony with warm words of encouragement for all participants expressing their expectation that the exercise will be mutually beneficial and reinforce friendships.

Wiercinski has participated in the last six Yama Sakura exercises.

"The people of Japan and the Japanese Ground Self Defense Force will always hold a special place of reverence in my military career," he said.

"Over the past generation it [Yama Sakura] has been a key component of the U.S. - Japan military relationship," Wiercinksi said. "It underscores the continued commitment by the United States and Japan to work shoulder-to-shoulder as dedicated partners in support of peace and stability in the Asia-Pacific Region."

Wiercinski said that Yama Sakura continues to evolve to meet the requirements of the changing operational environment. As he scanned the large formation he said, "This exercise serves as proof of our long-standing relationship."

The strength of that relationship was apparent in March 2011 as U.S. forces rapidly deployed to aid their friends in a time of need during Operation Tomodachi to help with restoration efforts after a 9.0 earthquake and subsequent tsunami, which claimed more than 18,000 lives. Wiercinski and Tanaka said that hosting the exercise at Camp Sendai holds special meaning, showcasing the resilience of the Japanese people as well as the enduring commitment between the two armies.

"Everyone here acutely understands the necessity of remaining ever-vigilant to a variety of challenges including the ravages of nature," Wiercinski said. "We are humbled to be here and among the strength of the Japanese people."