January 23, 2009

116th BCT completes Yama Sakura 55 exercise

By  Capt. Nevin J. Blankenship
116th BCT Public Affairs

Yama Sakura 55

Lt. Gen. Benjamin R. Mixon, commander U.S. Army Pacific, makes a point during the morning brief he and Lt. Gen Kazushi Izumi, commander Japanese Ground Self Defense Force Eastern Army receive each day at USARPAC Operations Command Post on bilateral training exercise Yama Sukura 55. (Photo by Maj. John H. Alderman IV, 124th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment)

SCHOFIELD BARRACKS, Hawaii — More than 1,200 U.S. Army Soldiers and nearly 4,500 members of the Japan Ground Self Defense Force  conducted Yama Sukura 55 (meaning Mountain Cherry Blossom in Japanese) at Camp Asaka, Japan and in Hawaii at Fort Shafter and Schofield Barracks. Soldiers of the Virginia National Guard’s 116th Brigade Combat Team were stationed at Schofield Barracks and returned on December 14.

The exercise is considered one of the most important bilateral exercises of the year for U.S. Army, Pacific.  In addition to USARPAC, active duty units from U.S. Army Alaska and U.S. Army Japan were joined this year by Guardsmen and Reservists from throughout the continental U.S., including Georgia, Mississippi, Colorado, Wyoming, Rhode Island, and California.

The 29th Infantry Division commanded a division in the computer-generated command post exercise that emulated an attack on Japan by a fictitious military threat.

Their goal, said Brig. Gen. Peter C. Hinz, the deputy commanding general, “Is to improve relations and improve our ability to work together as military units.”
Reaching that goal required them to build relationships on a personal and operational level with their Japanese counterparts.

Japan’s Constitution constrains the JGSDF to missions that defend the Japanese people and ensure their security. This could mean natural disasters or external military threats. Hinz notes that this is operationally quite similar to the role that National Guard units play in the states.

“In addition to our federal mission to mobilize and defend the nation, we have state Defense Support to Civilian Authorities missions,” said Hinz. “So in case of natural disasters or catastrophic events, we perform a lot of the same missions to take care of our local citizens as does the Japan Ground Self Defense Force.”

This was the first time the BCT staff was together for an exercise. Maj. Allan W. Carter, 116th BCT Operations Officer, said, “After returning from deployment the entire BCT staff changed. Yama Sukura 55 gave the new BCT staff a chance to work together on the Military Decision Making Process.” 

Maj Carter went on to say, “We were able to bring good products home from the exercise.”

These products and the experience will enable the BCT staff to be more prepared and efficient for future exercises and missions.

This exercise is a shining example of the continued commitment by the United States and Japan to work as dedicated partners in support of the U.S.-Japan Security Alliance, and for continued peace and stability in the Asia-Pacific region.   

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