KIN BLUE, Okinawa, Japan -- A day by the ocean for beachgoers means relaxing in the sand, swimming or enjoying the sound of the waves splashing onto the shore, but a normal beach day for U.S. Marines is much different.
Take April 28 for instance - one beach on Okinawa was occupied with small black rubber boats (or Combat Rubber Raiding Crafts) filled with soldiers from the Japanese Ground Self-Defense Force and U.S. Marines. Here, they practiced advanced amphibious operations together to better understand each other’s capabilities.
Officially known as the Japanese Observer Exchange Program, this annual military exercise enables a platoon-sized force of JGSDF soldiers to integrate with their U.S. Marine counterparts for a period of time.
Before any boats could hit the water, the JGSDF soldiers first participated in the Marine Corps intermediate swim qualification, a standardized test for anyone operating in the same conditions.
“We took the JGSDF swimmers out on the boats and taught them formations and the different protocols for different scenarios that could happen on the beach,” said Lance Cpl. Cody Roe, a machine gunner with Battalion Landing Team 2nd Battalion, 4th Marines, 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit. “The JGSDF landed on the beach first as the main assault and we came in afterward, acting as the support.”
Prior to the culminating event, the JGSDF and the Marines rehearsed the whole event so they could get used to working together.
“This past week was exciting because we were given the opportunity to train side-by-side with a different military and see how they get things done,” said Roe, from Windsor, California. “Not many people get the chance to train with a foreign military and it is an experience that I’m going to take with me for the rest of my life.”
1st Lt. Keisuke Sakamoto believes the program offers opportunities to share new tactics with the Marines and much more.
“My favorite part about this exercise was the actual culminating event,” said 1st Lt. Keisuke Sakamoto, a platoon commander with JGSDF. “It was very difficult because our small raid tactics are different from the U.S. Marines and it was very meaningful to me to see my soldiers working with them.”
JOEP came in response to the April 12 U.S.–Japan Security Consultative Committee, also known as the 2+2, statement calling for more dynamic defense cooperation. With the 31st MEU’s fourth iteration of JOEP coming to an end, the Marines and the JGSDF came together one last time to exchange gifts.
“It is quite a privilege to see Japanese soldiers train shoulder-to-shoulder with our Marines that share the same skill sets and to watch them learn from each other,” said Col. Romin Dasmalchi, commanding officer for the 31st MEU. “It is important to train with other nations because you never know what kind of future challenges we are going to have to address with our allies, whether it's disaster relief or any other contingency that could happen in this region.”