By Sgt. Rigo Cisneros, 211th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment
Wind sways heavy brush in the dry fields of the Yakima Training Center, while Illinois Army National Guardsmen from the 33rd Infantry Brigade Combat Team watch over Japan Ground Self-Defense Force troops conducting a live fire exercise during Rising Thunder, Sept. 1.
Rising Thunder is an annual exercise joining the U.S. Army and the Japan Ground Self-Defense Force. This year, the exercise, sponsored by U.S. Army Pacific, features the 7th Infantry Division, the Illinois Army National Guard's 33rd IBCT and 108th Sustainment Brigade, and Japan's 25th Infantry Regiment.
On Range 15 of the Yakima Training Center, the crackle of Japanese small arms fire broke a long silence. When the machine guns subsided, the infantrymen advanced on their objective, accompanied by their U.S. Army counterparts. The combat line of 25th Inf. Reg. troops employed M16 rifles and M249 light machine guns while communicating with one another through hand signals and verbal commands. As modern soldiers, these warriors are expected to be capable of operating a wide range of weapons in order to be valuable assets during a firefight. This expertise on the battlefield requires expert support for success.
"Their work ethic has been my favorite part of working with them," said Spc. Anthony Erslon, of Springfield, Illinois, a healthcare provider with Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 2nd Battalion, 130th Infantry Regiment, 33rd IBCT. "Very hard-working and fast-paced. They love to get everything done quick and right on time with everything."
As the Japanese combat line maneuvered forward, a small convoy of U.S. Army vehicles followed them down range. Chicago resident 2nd Lt. Michael Cisneros, a medical officer with Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 1st Battalion, 178th Infantry Regiment, 33rd IBCT, took out a small device to measure the wind and radioed back to report that the winds were less than four miles per hour.
"If it goes above four miles an hour, we have to shutdown the range," said Cisneros. "If a brush fire breaks out, the high winds with the low humidity can spread the fire incredibly quickly."
Fire suppression is major part of the range control mission at the Yakima Training Center.
"It's already happened and that's why we have this bag," said Pfc. Kamil Kapral, of Hickory Hills, Illinois, an infantryman with Company B, 1-178th Inf. Reg, while pointing to his firefighting equipment "We were trained to use this equipment to quickly put out small fire and keep it from spreading."
Kapral's vigilance is warranted; the training center previously battled a fire that covered 80 miles.
"We are providing range operations and medical support for the Japan Ground Self-Defense Force during this exercise," said Cisneros.
“If a medical emergency breaks out,” he said, “we treat them as best we can and get them over to the battalion aid station as soon as possible for the Army doctor to treat them.”
Ultimately, the support provided to the 25th Inf. Reg. by the 33rd IBCT serves to reinforce the strong bonds of allied cooperation. At Rising Thunder, they train as one force.
"I wanted to play a part in strengthening the relationship between the U.S. and Japanese military forces," said Cisneros. "When we build relationships with other countries, we are stronger together than we are alone."
This relationship extends beyond the battlefield. In between maneuver iterations, the soldiers of the two nations made honest efforts at communicating in order to play games and sports together.
"They are really fun guys," said Pfc. Darian Matos, of Chicago, an infantryman with Company B, 1-178th Inf. Reg. "They have been showing us things about their culture and we do the same. They have been extremely polite and friendly."