YAKIMA, Wash. — Gunfire echoed through the streets as U.S. and Japanese soldiers cleared a village of hostile forces.
Soldiers out of Joint Base Lewis-McChord moved through one side of the village, clearing buildings as they advanced. On the other side, members of the 3rd Company, 1st Infantry Regiment of the Japanese Ground Self-Defense Force cleared the other side, with soldiers displaying a white cloth to show the building had been cleared.
The “village” — a collection of partially completed plywood buildings pocked with bullet holes — was within the Yakima Training Center, and the first run-through was using blanks before the American and Japanese soldiers fired live rounds at paper targets representing an enemy.
The exercise was part of Rising Thunder 18, a joint training operation for the soldiers at the sprawling installation northeast of Selah.
The training center is a satellite installation of Joint Base Lewis-McChord near Tacoma.
“America has actual combat experience, and they are sharing their knowledge with us, and we can learn a lot from their personal combat experience,” said 1st. Lt. Ryusuke Okada, a platoon leader with the Japanese forces. “That’s an important factor for why we are here.”
And for the Americans, it’s a chance to learn how to work with their allies, as well as realize the role the U.S. military plays in the world.
“For me, it’s been an opportunity to see the bigger picture,” said Spec. Richard Caldwell, an infantryman with the 1st Battalion, 17th Infantry Regiment, 2nd Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Infantry Division.
Members of Japan’s Ground Self-Defense Force — Japan’s Constitution limits its military operations to defensive purposes only — make the trip to the training center to hone combat skills in ways they can’t in Japan.
This year was the first for the 3rd Company, said Maj. Shotaro Tada. He said the Tokyo-based 1st Regiment is assigned to defend the Japanese capital.
If his company were to do urban combat training in Japan, they would not be allowed to use live ammunition, Okada said. By coming to Yakima, they can participate in live-fire exercises, which adds a level of stress to the training that makes the soldiers better at their jobs, Okada said.
Rising Thunder is part of the Pacific Pathways program, designed to improve readiness among U.S. and Asian forces in the Pacific region, said Lt. Col. Donald R. Neal Jr., battalion commander.
“We do more things similarly to each other than we do differently,” Neal said. “For the most part, there are little nuances that are different.”
There are some challenges though, with soldiers speaking different languages. But Neal said that is where planning becomes important, especially when fighting in an urban area where soldiers have to also minimize harm to civilians.
For Friday’s exercise, American and Japanese leaders planned out the assault, creating a miniature map on the ground to show the rest of the troops, using dirt piles to represent hills and food plates for the buildings. Interpreters with both units translated the leaders’ instructions. After the briefing, the American and Japanese troops boarded their armored vehicles for the ride over to the combat area.
But for the Japanese troops, who arrived at the end of August, it has not been all work. Okada said their commanders — Neal and Col. Yoshinori Machinaka — designated a sports day for the soldiers to play soccer and other games together as mixed teams to better get to know each other.
And the Japanese soldiers have traditionally participated in Selah’s annual Base Run event.