CAMP HANSEN, Okinawa, Japan --
Soldiers with the Western Army of the Japan Ground Self Defense Force concluded their participation of the Japan Observer Exchange Program (JOEP) alongside Marines from Battalion Landing Team 3rd Battalion, 5th Marines, 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit, here, Aug. 7.
The JGSDF integrated with the BLT’s boat company as part of the six-week JOEP beginning June 23.
As part of the program, the JGSDF soldiers lived and worked with U.S. Marines during a pre-deployment training cycle. The soldiers observed Marine Corps amphibious operations and small unit tactics while getting hands-on practice, giving both Marines and soldiers the opportunity to benefit from shared learning.
“The Japanese forces as a whole are an effective and discipline unit,” said Sgt. Timothy Olsen, machine-gunner squad leader with the BLT, and a native of Omaha, Nebraska. “One of the things they did well is operating as a small unit boat group. Since they’ve been with us, they learned to utilize their scout swimmers more, (they learned) how silence is key, and that we have to work together as a team.”
In addition to small boat operations during JOEP, the soldiers participated in swim qualifications, which focuses on the basics of water survival; the Marine Corps Martial Arts Program, a weapon and hand-to-hand combative system; and a conditioning hike aimed to increase cohesion between the two militaries.
Although the JGSDF won’t be involved in the 31st MEU’s regularly scheduled Fall Patrol, they observed and practiced shallow water egress training that’s necessary for all Marines to complete prior to boarding a naval vessel. The SWET chair is a floating cage training device that teaches personnel how to quickly escape from a downed aircraft in water.
While JOEP offers the Marines exposure to their Japan counterparts, it also ensures unit readiness in a wide variety of operations to ensure the MEU is always deployable for real world contingencies.
“The Marines have experience with the battlefield,” said 1st Lt. Shunsaku Nara, a training officer with JGSDF’s 12th Regiment, and a native of Hokkaido, Japan. “They always talk about posting security, 360-degree defense, keeping accountability of troops. We would do rehearsals with the Marines, and after we were gone, they kept doing more rehearsals. I felt that (the Marines) are very focused on the mission and are determined to do things right.”
This is the third iteration of JOEP since 2012 and demonstrates the continued commitment of the United States and Japan to working together to maintain a strong partnership to respond to future challenges.
“The Japanese have been one of our longest and closest allies out here in the Pacific,” said Lt. Col. Robert C. Rice, the commanding officer BLT 3/5, and a native of Richland, Washington. “Any opportunity for us to work together, as well as facilitate their ability to do things independently, is a mutual win.”
There were a number of challenges between the Marines and the JGSDF soldiers, such as the language barrier and differences with gear and equipment, but they quickly became a synonymous unit that melded together.
“When they landed on the beach, it was difficult to tell who was who, which was an impressive feat,” said Col. Romin Dasmalchi, commanding officer of the 31st MEU, and a native of Mansfield, Missouri.
After a final formation and gift exchange, the soldiers and the Marines did not leave without saying goodbye and taking group photos. The camaraderie built between the soldiers and Marines will carry on to the next iteration of JOEP.
“It’s just a great honor to be part of a program like this,” said Dasmalchi. “Our Japanese partners want to build a national amphibious capability and I think it’s an honor to be entrusted with the responsibility to help them do that. The Marines of BLT 3/5 did a fabulous job in hosting this exchange and I look forward to the next (JOEP).”
The involvement of the JGSDF soldiers in the MEU’s regularly-scheduled training comes in response to the April 2012 U.S.-Japan Security Consultative Committee, also known as the 2+2, statement calling for the enhancement of the Asia-Pacific Region’s security and defense cooperation. The 31st MEU is the Nation’s force in readiness for the Asia-Pacific region and is the only continuously forward deployed MEU.