Learning through partnership
YOKOTA AIR BASE, Japan -- One of the best aspects of being stationed overseas is being able to learn from the men and women of your host nation's military and civilian population.
But while we often work side by side with our counterparts, we often don't learn as much about each other's culture as we may think, which is why the 374th Airlift Wing leadership supports the Non-Commisioned Officer exchange program between members of the U.S. Air Force and the Japan Air Self Defense Force.
Eight NCO's from the JASDF were selected to come to Yokota where we took them in and showed them how the USAF works, and some parts of American culture that we've brought to Yokota. I was partnered with Tech. Sgt. Fumiaki Nishihara from the Japan Self Defense Force headquarters in Ichigaya.
It was a fascinating experience in that while we are both traditionally photographers by trade, the way his office worked was very different than how mine works, particularly in regards to Public Affairs. The differences allowed us to show him many facets of Public Affairs in the USAF that he wasn't used to, and it was encouraging to see him embrace learning from the differences.
I also had the opportunity to show him some of culture of America, in the small bubble that is Yokota, whether it was eating at Taco Bell, running in the African American Heritage Month 5K, or inviting him over for some home cooked pulled pork sandwiches.
It was refreshing to see his excitement at the various cultural differences, from the types of foods that we cook and eat, to the differences in sizes of things at the Base Exchange or Commissary. Seeing his reaction to the American way would help me in the future as I prepared to visit a JASDF base.
Once the eight JASDF NCO's left Yokota and returned to their own installations, the eight host NCO's then prepared to head to Komaki Air Base, home of the 1st Tactical Airlift Wing who maintain and fly C-130 Hercules, the same mission I'm used to seeing every day at Yokota.
Some of the team was in for a bit of a shock in regards to some of the cultural differences, whether it was difference between the types of pillows the Japanese typically use compared to Americans, or the fact that the dining facility has no options, as each meal is carefully selected for its nutritional value.
I was fortunate that my sponsor, Chief Master Sgt. Randolph Kawasaki, spoke fluent English. He had quite the interesting background, which we spent a few nights discussing as we enjoyed local Japanese cuisine.
But even as we adjusted to the various differences between American and Japanese cultures, we settled in and worked alongside our JSADF counterparts, and by and large we found that things at Komaki weren't vastly different than at Yokota.
Working with their Public Affairs office I found that they generally had the same type of workload and constraints as my own office. After getting past the language barrier, I was able to settle in and see the similarities. It was almost amusing that regardless of the language or the culture, it seems the work is still the same.
And I heard much of the same from my fellow students, who expressed that they were in offices that functioned very closely to their own in Yokota. There are many structural differences in how the JASDF is organized versus the USAF, but once you're past the organizational level, at the core we're both focused on the same mission, the safety and stability of the western Pacific Region.
With the tours complete and all of the NCO's back at their respective bases, I believe the exchange to have been a rare and valuable opportunity. We gained new insight into the way each other's Air Forces work, but that was almost the secondary benefit from this.
I've personally made two very good friends in the JASDF, who I'll keep in contact with and plan to meet up with again soon. As Chief Master Sgt. Manuel Roblesreynoso, 374th Airlift Wing command chief, said during each of the opening events, this program is largely about building relationships.
As guests of Japan it's important that we build strong relationships with our host nation, and this program has been an excellent way for each side to strengthen those bonds. But this is really only one of the many ways available.
I was lucky to have this opportunity, but for those who don't get such a chance, I challenge them to find other ways to get involved with the local community or with your JASDF counterparts. Building a friendship with our Japanese hosts is a truly rewarding experience, it helps build a better image of Americans and it will make your experience in Japan one that you'll always remember.