WASHINGTON, Oct. 24, 2012 ??? The U.S. Army and the Japan Ground Self Defense Force kicked off Orient Shield 2012 in Japan today, the first in a series of annual tactical field-training exercises since the Defense Department???s new strategic guidance refocused attention on the Asia-Pacific region.
Snipers from the 25th Infantry Division???s 1st Battalion, 14th infantry Regiment, display their equipment to members of the Japan Ground Self Defense Force and the media during the opening of Orient Shield 12 at Aibano Training Area, Japan, Oct. 24, 2012. The annual tactical-level exercise will run through Nov. 8 and includes more than 750 U.S. soldiers and 600 Japanese soldiers. U.S. Army photo by Maj. Randall Baucom (Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
Considered the two armies??? premier field training exercise since it began in 2000, Orient Shield focuses on bilateral planning, coordination and interoperability, Army Maj. Randall Baucom, a U.S. Army Japan spokesman, told American Forces Press Service.
This year???s exercise, the first to include Stryker vehicles, brings together soldiers from the 25th Infantry Division???s 1st Battalion, 14th Infantry Regiment based at Schofield Barracks, Hawaii, and the JGSDF Middle Army???s 10th Division, 33rd Infantry Regiment at Japan???s Aibano Training Area. Collectively, it includes about 750 U.S. service members and 600 Japanese troops.
Unlike other bilateral exercises focused primarily on headquarters and bilateral staff operations, Orient Shield promotes engagement at the junior enlisted and noncommissioned officer level. As the U.S. and Japanese soldiers exchange ideas, tactics, techniques and military experiences, Baucom said, they will enhance their combat readiness and interoperability at the tactical level.
That capability will get put to the test through collective training conducted during the exercise???s second week, as the troops work side by side in a tactical field training exercise, he said.
These engagements have big-picture significance, Baucom said, strengthening the historic U.S.-Japan alliance demonstrating U.S. resolve to support the security interests of friends and allies in the region.
Navy Adm. Samuel J. Locklear III, the U.S. Pacific Command commander, calls the U.S.-Japan alliance — one of five U.S. alliances in the region — a keystone in implementing the new strategic guidance that recognizes the growing economic and strategic importance of the Asia-Pacific region.
As he explores ways to increase military-to-military engagement there, Locklear said, he wants to expand the scope of current exercises while also reaching out to new partners to initiate new exercises. The admiral said he also plans to encourage more trilateral and multilateral exercises that encourage broader regional engagement.
Army Lt. Gen. Francis J. Wiercinski, the commander of U.S. Army Pacific, told bloggers earlier this week he hopes to increase the number of troops available to support the exercise program. As the U.S. military draws down forces in Afghanistan, Wiercinski said, he wants to begin troop rotations.
As envisioned, the soldiers would serve 30- to 45-day deployments in the region, participating in exercises and other military engagements. Ideally, they will be able to fall in on equipment and supplies pre-positioned at key locations, he said, reducing the cost and logistical burden of that enhanced military-to-military engagement.
Meanwhile, Pacom also is seeking ways to engage its sailors, Marines and airmen more closely with regional allies and partners, reported Army Col. David Parker, Pacom???s exercise division chief.
As the command strives to exercise with more partners and promote more multilateral engagements, Parker said, they are finding disaster preparedness to be a universal common ground.
???If there is something common across the [area of responsibility], it is the awareness that there is going to be a natural disaster. So nations are focusing on that,??? said Army Col. Phillip Meade, the director of Pacom???s Center for Excellence in Disaster Management and Humanitarian Assistance.
???And that is why, when you develop a multilateral exercise under the humanitarian assistance disaster relief umbrella, it helps bring everyone to the table,??? he said.