US, Japan Airmen enhance bilateral partnership, make friends

CHITOSE AIR BASE, Japan -- For the first time Airmen across multiple career fields assigned to two of Japan’s most strategic northern air bases, whose area of operations stretches across northern Honshu and the island of Hokkaido, came together for the first of many bilateral career trainings. Previous exchanges were limited to only maintenance Airmen making this Chitose visit a significant leap forward in U.S.-Japan relations.

Ten Airmen with the 35th Fighter Wing from Misawa Air Base flew to Chitose Air Base on the island of Hokkaido, April 11-20, for a U.S.-Japan Bilateral Career Training specifically designed to bring the two-nation’s air forces closer as allies and friends.

“This has been an eye-opener for me,” said U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Jarrod Clark, a 35th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron crew chief. “I’ve been able to talk with and relay information using some of the same terms we use on the flight line, as they are also used by the Japanese, and it helps to communicate better when we need to make tough decisions.”

Forged in the wake of World War II, the U.S.-Japan security alliance has served as one of the region's most important military relationships and as an anchor of the U.S. security role in the Indo-Asia-Pacific region.

The participants had opportunities to experience life on a Koku Jieitai, Japanese for Japan Air Self-Defense Force, installation. The U.S. Airmen lived in their dormitories, ate at their dining facility, used their sports and recreation facilities and most importantly, worked side-by-side with their Japanese counterparts.

“It was very interesting to see how they do things,” said U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Jessica Nienheuser, the 35th Medical Support Squadron patient administration section chief.

The technical sergeant said she was particularly impressed by how their chief master sergeants work side-by-side with their subordinates enriching professional and personal growth across the team.

“We always preach about how it is to be a leader and to get out with our people and still lead by example,” Nienheuser explained. “I can see they lead by example and I can take that as a strength because it works for them, because their subordinates respect them.”

While the goal was for the Americans to learn how the Koku Jieitai operates and improves their Japanese-speaking capabilities. The program offered an opportunity for the Japanese Airmen to also achieve takeaways on U.S. military operations, strategies for mission accomplishment and also, learn English.

“I’ve taken several [Japanese-lead] English courses prior to this program but this experience actually offers hands on opportunities to speak English with our American counterparts,” said Koku-Jieitai Senior Airman Takashi Shibuya, a 2nd Air Wing Armament Maintenance Squadron armament technician. “This was a great opportunity for us to deepen our mutual understanding of each other especially between myself and my fellow American friends.”

Cooperation during the Gulf and Iraq wars and the March 2011 Tohoku earthquake reaffirmed the strength of the alliance, and the importance of bilateral cooperation. Both nations seek safety and security across the region and bringing a few U.S. and Japanese Airmen together during career training stems from a long heritage of interoperability between the two nations.

“We built some great friendships during the training and we’d like to keep in touch in the future,” Shibuya said.

“This was definitely a fun and very influential experience and I’ll definitely hold on to it and hope others get the same opportunity I did,” added U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Dominic Williams, the 35th Maintenance Squadron ammo plans and scheduling NCO in charge.

Although they had to say their goodbyes after the 10-day training, all participants, U.S. and Japanese alike, agreed they’d continue the conversation they started after returning home.

“We’re friends on Facebook and I’m already making plans to come back to Chitose AB with my family,” said U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Radell Mitchell, a 35th Maintenance Group quality assurance inspector. “It’s opportunities like this that allow us to better our Japanese speaking skills so we can work together more effectively during real-world situations.”

“I want my colleagues and future subordinates to further develop this exchange event in order to make friends like I did,” added Shibuya. “The relationships we make now are only going to bring us closer as allies as we continue working together for the safety and security across the region.”

Koku-Jieitai Capt. Shinji Sugawara, the 2nd Air Wing individual training section chief, said he hopes the program continues for many years to come.

“I am so grateful I had the opportunity to meet and work with each of the participants,” Sugawara said. “This U.S.-Japan Bilateral Career Training promotes a mutual understanding between our two nations and I’d like to thank you for your cooperation and interest in our operations here at Chitose and our people. We’re closer now and I’m privileged to call many of you my friends; see you next time!”