Iron Fist deepens U.S., Japanese bond
02-20-2010 09:54 AM
ABOARD NEW ORLEANS — Above the din of throttling engines of Marine amphibious assault vehicles and Navy air-cushioned landing craft, an unfamiliar voice echoed across the smoky well deck — speaking Japanese.
Across the ship’s announcement system, a woman read a series of serial numbers marking the next group of Japanese soldiers and vehicles to organize for the next wave in a Southern California beach assault training exercise, held off Camp Pendleton, Calif., on Feb. 16.
New Orleans, a transport dock ship, hosted a company of Japanese soldiers for the four-day embark, part of the three-week-long Exercise Iron Fist, which teamed U.S. Marines and sailors with the Kyushu-based Japanese Ground Self-Defense Force infantrymen.
The soldiers arrived in early February to train nearly a month with Expeditionary Strike Group 3 and I Marine Expeditionary Force elements.
“[The Japanese soldiers] seem very intense. They tell us it’s a good opportunity to work together,” said Sgt. Maj. Juan Hidalgo, the senior enlisted Marine with 3rd Assault Amphibian Battalion, which joined in the Iron Fist exercises.
Marines relished the training, too. Gunnery Sgt. Ty Jones had spent two tours aboard amphibious ships in the 1990s, but it had been 12 years since he had delved into amphibious operations at sea. “It’s like I’ve never really left,” said Jones, a combat logistics chief and the ship’s senior assistant combat cargo officer.
Soldiers spent most of their time aboard largely focused on training, while unit leaders worked alongside with their Marine and Navy trainers to plan the exercise events.
“I am very fortunate to deepen that bond. You have to see it through their eyes to appreciate it,” said Cmdr. Jeff Oakey, New Orleans’ skipper, noting strong U.S.-Japan treaty ties between both militaries.
Soldiers bunked in troop berthing and joined the 200 embarked Marines and crew of 360 sailors for standard Navy meals — rice reportedly was in larger quantities — and many ventured to the ship’s two gyms for workouts on the treadmills. Marines and sailors exercised their memory of Japanese phrases as soldiers tried to perfect their English. “They understand a lot of English,” Jones said. Two interpreters helped close the language gap, Jones said, but often Marines and sailors relied on hand signals to direct drivers and soldiers through the maze of ramps and decks on the ship.
The final amphibious exercise began at about 2 a.m. when black-clad Japanese soldiers and Marine trainers riding three rubber raiding craft dropped from New Orleans’ well deck ramp into the Pacific well ahead of the assault force and headed to Camp Pendleton’s beach.
The beach assaults culminated the bilateral exercises, designed to build amphibious capabilities between both countries. Maj. Hiroshi Inouem, a company commander with the Japanese forces, said his soldiers relished the training alongside the Marines, who he said they see as “the strongest” of military forces.
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