US Army Alaska soldiers to train in Japan, South Korea
YOKOTA AIR BASE, Japan — A task force of 450 soldiers and 25 Stryker armored personnel carriers from Alaska is headed for Japan and South Korea to train with U.S., South Korean and Japanese forces.
Task Force Blackhawk — composed of soldiers from 5th Squadron, 1st Cavalry Regiment and other elements of the 1st Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division — is preparing to depart Fort Wainwright, Alaska, for Japan, according to U.S. Army Alaska officials.
The deployment — part of the Army’s Pacific Pathways program of engagement with friendly nations in the region — comes at a time of heightened tension on the Korean Peninsula.
South Korea halted propaganda broadcasts across the Demilitarized Zone this week after North Korea expressed regret after two South Korean soldiers were maimed by landmines allegedly planted by the North. The incident led to an exchange of artillery fire and the evacuation of some areas south of the DMZ.
“Our folks watch the news,” 5-1 commander Lt. Col Jim Hayes said Wednesday. “It adds to the realism of this (deployment). They are part of history and current events going on over there.”
The unit has already shipped its Strykers — to include reconnaissance, command, mortar carrier and medevac variants — and an advance party of troops will leave for Japan later this week, Hayes said.
“The main body will arrive in early September in Japan,” he said.
The task force will participate in Orient Shield — U.S. Army Japan’s annual exercise with the Japan Ground Self-Defense Force — which will take place in and around Sendai, one of the northeastern Japan cities that bore the brunt of 2011’s devastating tsunami.
Training in Japan will involve partnering with Japanese forces and live-fire range drills. 5-1 is bringing forward observers and three of its 155 mm towed howitzer guns to Japan. The training will culminate with a four-day force-on-force exercise, Hayes said.
In Korea, the Alaska-based troops will join in the 2nd Infantry Division’s Warfighter exercise, where the unit will maneuver for 10 days in the Wonju area, east of Seoul. Soldiers will also conduct live-fire training at Rodriguez Range complex, just south of the DMZ.
The trip, which follows 5-1 deployments over the past 12 months to India and the Fort Irwin National Training Center in California, provides valuable expeditionary training, said U.S. Army Alaska spokesman Lt. Col. Alan Brown.
The trip will also hone the skills of the squadron’s rear detachment and family readiness group, said Hayes, who served at South Korea’s Camp Garry Owen from 2001-02.
Fewer than one in 10 of his soldiers have experience in Asia, Hayes estimated, and not many soldiers in the unit, which returned from Afghanistan in 2012, have combat experience. Most have never left the U.S., other than driving through Canada, he said.
The Alaska-based troops will spent about a week in each country getting to know the local culture, he said.
About 450 military personnel and 1,300 Japanese troops will participate in Orient Shield, said U.S. Army Japan spokesman Lt. Col. Kevin Toner.