Yama Sakura 67 blossoms, strengthens bilateral readiness
YOKOTA AIR BASE, Japan -- A myriad of service members spanning multiple branches of military service and nationalities gathered in areas around Tokyo, Japan with one common goal in mind: to defend Japan from simulated contingencies.
The event was Yama Sakura 67, the largest U.S. Army annual bilateral exercise in Asia-Pacific region. The Bilateral Air Coordination Center portion of the exercise commenced at Yokota Air Base, Japan, Tuesday.
Yama Sakura's primary focus is to enhance combat readiness and interoperability between the U.S. Army and Japan Ground Self-Defense Forces, and to demonstrate the capability and strong bond between the two nations.
"(We had) the opportunity to enhance joint combined and bilateral mission command with emphasis on air and ground operation integration," said Sgt. 1st Class Leonard Johnson, an operations noncommissioned officer with the 5th battlefield coordination detachment, Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam. "We work side-by-side with our Japanese counterparts and share our experiences, culture and tradition."
The exercise incorporated several simulated scenarios, allowing both forces to work together as a team to overcome virtual adversaries and replicate a multinational domain.
For Capt. Shohei Watanabe, an intel officer with the 1st Infantry Regiment, Camp Asaka, Japan, the exercise is giving him both new and valuable experiences.
"We are right next to each other, truly working together bilaterally and learning from each other," Watanabe said. "In the future, if something were to happen, we could come together and deal with any situation. It is great to build mutual trust and shared understanding."
While the exercise was primarily focused on the ground forces, the U.S. Air Force and the Japan Air Self-Defense Force played a vital role by providing strategy development, combat plans and combat operations division support, as well as creating a more realistic training environment.
"Yama Sakura is a series of exercises between the U.S. Army and the JGSDF, but with the relationship between 5th Air Force and 613 Air Operation Center, we are able to integrate air operations into unified land operations," Johnson said.
For many, this was the first experience with a foreign military service.
"Yama Sakura 67 was a good opportunity for us because working with different services in this scale is rare," said Capt. Eiko Higashi, a pilot with the JASDF Air Defense Command Headquarters. "Personally speaking, this is my first exercise with the U.S. Army and JGSDF. So I am looking forward to learning many things from them."
The sentiment was shared by U.S. forces as well.
"For me and the rest of the soldiers, this is a new experience working with a foreign army," Johnson said. "This experience is something that I'll take wherever I go."