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Guard supports Japan Military During Operation Rising Thunder 2014

By PFC Brianne Patterson

JFHQ - WA Public Affairs

YAKIMA TRAINING CENTER, Wash. - More than 70 years ago, if you found soldiers from these two countries together on the same battlefield, it would have been against each other in a time of war. Japan is now one of our strongest and most loyal allies, and every year, members of the Japan Ground Self-Defense Force join U.S. military forces at Yakima Training Center (YTC) in September, for a joint exercise known as, Operation Rising Thunder.

This year marked the 16th anniversary of the joint exercise, where more than 450 U.S. and 300 Japanese forces train together in a wide array of exercises, such as live-fire and air assault missions.

“The focus of this exercise is to train combined arms in conjunction with maneuver and firepower,” noted Col. Takashi Goto, a JGSDF Commander.

The exercise did just that, combining Japanese forces with U.S. forces, which included soldiers from the Washington National Guard's 66th Theater Aviation Command (TAC) and 341st Military Intelligence Battalion (MI BN), the Army's 2nd Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 7th Infantry Division and Marines with the 6th Air, Naval, Gunfire Liaison Company (ANGLICO).

“I think it was a good collaboration of two countries coming together and working together to get some good training,” said Sgt. Joseph Ellefson, a flight engineer with the 66th TAC.

Soldiers from 66th TAC provided aviation support throughout Operation Rising Thunder, while linguists from 341st MI BN worked to lighten the language barrier by translating between Japanese and U.S. forces.

When the JGSDF arrived, at the Port of Tacoma on Aug. 26th, 66th TAC sent one UH-72 Lakota and one UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter to escort members of the JGSDF and their four helicopters to YTC. They also flew officers with the JGSDF, who arrived the following week, to YTC in a Black Hawk.

Ellefson and other soldiers from 66th TAC were tasked with providing support during the final training mission; an air assault exercise. Before conducting the exercise Ellefson gave a safety brief about the Chinook, while Spc. Joshua Williams, a linguist with the 341st MI BN, translated. Members of the JGSDF then loaded onto a CH-47 Chinook helicopter while the other Chinook sling loaded one of the JGSDF's vehicles.

“Today we went to go do an operations mission with the Japanese,” said Ellefson. “We did some packs lifts and some sling loads. We took people on-board and transported them from point A to point B and chalk two did a sling load, they picked up a LAV (Light Armored Vehicle) and transported it from point A to point B.”

The Chinook's made three trips, transporting two LAVs and over 50 members of the JGSDF, along with other U.S. military personnel. During their first trip the Chinooks were escorted by two AH-1 Cobra helicopters with the JGSDF, which proved to be an exciting experience for many of the Chinook crew members.

“I liked the Cobras as they were side-by-side on track two and moving forward,” said Ellefson. “I thought that was pretty sweet.”

For others, like Williams, highlights of the exercise were more about forming bonds and creating memories.

“When we break for lunch or before training starts having the soldiers kind of mingle together and swap patches or try and describe how to eat the food or what it is exactly from these MRE's that they're eating, it's a lot of fun,” said Williams. “I think it really helps to solidify the bonds of goodwill between both sides.”