By Timothy ShannonFebruary 4, 2013
CAMP SAPPORO, Japan (Feb. 4, 2013) -- The Northern army of the Japan Ground Self Defense Force and U.S. Army Japan and I Corps (Forward) participated in the JGSDF Northern Army's Sapporo Epicenter humanitarian assistance and disaster relief exercise, or HADR, held at Camp Sapporo, Japan, Jan. 23-27. This was the first year that USARJ has been asked to participate in this exercise.
The exercise also incorporated Hokkaido Prefecture and Sapporo city personnel, making this year's humanitarian assistance and disaster relief exercise a groundbreaking event. Never in Hokkaido have so many organizations come together to support a single disaster training event.
The exercise enhances U.S. and Japan readiness and interoperability in conducting humanitarian assistance and disaster relief operations, according to a prepared statement from the Japan Ground Self Defense Force, or JGSDF. The exercise strengthens bilateral relationships for all the participants from U.S. Army Japan, or USARJ, JGSDF, and civilian disaster relief agencies from Hokkaido prefecture and Sapporo city.
Having experienced a catastrophic earthquake, followed by a tsunami, March, 11, 2011, in the Tohoku region of Japan, prefectural and local governments are working hard to be better prepared for a natural disaster.
The exercise allowed USARJ and the JGSDF to complete many training objectives.
One of the criteria for success involved the deployment of an assessment team, or DAT, to Camp Sapporo and initiating a mobile satellite system for communications. The DAT consists of a 12-person team made up of logistics, medical, intelligence, communications and operations personnel. Their mission is to rapidly deploy into a disaster area, assess the needed requirements, and provide immediate intelligence to the USARJ commander, who then can send forward additional personnel and assets.
USARJ's secure and non-secure portable communications system, called SNAP, was deployed for the exercise. SNAP enables the forward-deployed Soldier to gain more information to make better decisions in the field. It provides secure and non-secure email, video-conferencing and voice capabilities through satellite communications networks.
By deploying SNAP and putting it through its paces, the deployable assessment team also gained a better working knowledge of the system that will assist them in writing a tactical standard operating procedures, or SOP manual for future operations. It also allowed the JGSDF to see SNAP in action during the exercise.
Like most combined military exercises, this one was highly dependent upon clear lines of communication between the U.S. Army, JGSDF and officials from Hokkaido prefecture and Sapporo city. It made linguists a critical asset for the deployable assessment team.
Mayuko Omoto, from the USARJ G5 section, proved invaluable with her ability to communicate in two languages, and both cultures as well, officials said.
"Omoto-san is very talented at her job," said JGSDF liaison officer for the USARJ, Noritaka Ito. "Her English is perfect, always."
In return, Public Health Command's Capt. Bill Wilson thought the Japanese were very open about sharing their healthcare knowledge with their American counterparts.
"Communication started off slowly, but once the Japanese felt comfortable with working with us, things started to move much more smoothly," he said. "Every day of this exercise, we learn something. It's a good flow of information."
According to 35th Combat Sustainment Support Battalion's Capt. Duane Dumlao, the joint exercise offered the opportunity to see how other disaster preparedness forces conduct business.
"It was a really good experience for me," said Dumlao. "I learned a lot about logistics support during a HADR, or other emergency situations we are called upon to respond to, with assistance to our Japanese counterparts."
Deployable Assessment Team chief Col. Frank Clark believes the exercise was a chance for USARJ to flex its muscles and show the people of Japan the capabilities of the U.S. Army, as well as share information with their Japanese counterparts. He says exercises like this enhance U.S. and Japan's ability to rapidly integrate into the bilateral planning and coordination with their counterparts, both civilian and military.
"Exercises like the Sapporo Epicenter HADR exercise illustrate the interoperability between our two nations and two uniformed forces in the wake of a natural disaster," he said.
Sapporo Epicenter is just one of several humanitarian assistance and disaster relief exercises U.S. Army Japan and I Corps (Forward) plan to participate in this year.