Missouri infantrymen train with Japanese Defense Forces

Photo by U.S. Army Sgt. Nathan Hastings, 139th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment/ A Soldier with the Ground Self-Defense Force 26th Infantry Regiment stands in formation with fixed bayonets during the opening ceremony of Orient Shield XI on Nov. 2. The two-week exercise in Kami-Furano, Japan partners the Japanese military with U.S. forces. The Missouri Army National Guard's 1st Battalion, 138th Infantry Regiment is working with the Japanese military as both sides exchange tactics and ideas to improve the U.S. alliance with Japan.


KAMI-FURANO, Japan - Nearly 200 infantrymen with Missouri Army National Guard's 1/138th Infantry Regiment are currently training in Japan as part of the Operation Orient Shield exercise. The recurring collaboration since 1997 with Japanese Defense Forces runs from Nov. 2-11.

Since the end of World War II, the United States has worked to build a better relationship with Japan. In 1960, the U.S. and Japan signed the Treaty of Mutual Cooperation and Security, a binding agreement for both countries to support each other from enemy attack.

"This is a great opportunity for a reserve component to work with one of our allies," said Lt. Col. Kevin Fujimoto, battalion commander of 1/138th Infantry Regiment. "This is great training with a professional organization with years of institutional knowledge."

The two-week exercise on the northern Japanese island of Hokkaido takes place each fall and consists of approximately 400 National Guard members from six states, working with approximately 200 Soldiers from the Japanese military. The Missouri National Guard is playing a big role.

Stood up just over two years ago, the 1/138th is still a relatively new unit. Fujimoto, of St. Louis, said the opportunity to train with allied forces is a major step in the unit's continued evolution as an effective fighting force. The roughly 200 Missouri Guardsmen have been training for nearly two years for this unique experience.

"By coming here, we meet a huge contractual obligation to support our allies," said Fujimoto. "The Japanese have a modern, professional military and it is great to share our experiences."

The focus of the exercise is developing tactical, bilateral operations and war fighting skills between the U.S. and Japanese militaries. It involves hundreds of troops and at least a dozen helicopters.

"Our main goal is to enhance the interoperability between the U.S. and Japan," said Col. Takeshi Hirano, of Hiroshima, regimental commander of Japanese Ground Self-Defense Force 26th Infantry Regiment. "During this training we are learning the differences and similarities between the U.S. and Japan."

Most of the Soldiers with the 1/138th volunteered for the training opportunity. Many said they volunteered because the exercise was a unique, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

"This is an awesome experience to see some of their tactics and for them to see ours," said Sgt. Christopher Kiel of Det. 1, Company A, 1/138th Infantry Regiment in Boonville. "Even though there is a language barrier, we have received some language training and we have interpreters to help us."

Some of the Soldiers have worked with the Japanese military during other training exercises, or were stationed in Japan as part of the active duty Army.

"It is an amazing opportunity for our Soldiers to have a cultural exchange with (the Japanese)," said Sgt. 1st Class Wes Blanscet, of Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 1/138th Infantry Regiment in Kansas City, who was stationed in Japan in 1999. "I think it is extremely important for my Soldiers to get the experience I did. We are all people; it is just interesting to see how the different cultures interact."

The 1/138th Infantry Regiment is headquartered in Kansas City and maintains units in St. Louis, Boonville, Perryville, Monett, Anderson and Jefferson City.

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