US and Japanese soldiers kick off annual Yama Sakura drills in Hokkaido

US and Japanese soldiers kick off annual Yama Sakura drills in Hokkaido

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YOKOSUKA NAVAL BASE, Japan — I Corps and Japan Ground Self-Defense Force soldiers gathered over the weekend in Hokkaido to kick off a joint command-post exercise called Yama Sakura.

The annual weeklong training tests the allies’ capability to defend Japanese territory as a unified fighting force. Aside from assuring combat readiness, the drills are a chance to reinforce relations with the Japanese military, I Corps commander Lt. Gen. Gary Volesky said during Sunday’s opening ceremony at the JGSDF’s Camp Higashi-Chitose.

“The soldiers of America’s First Corps are committed to our partnership, and this exercise is an opportunity to learn, grow and build capacity in both of our organizations,” he said, according to an Army statement. “A critical objective for this exercise is strengthening the Japanese military alliance and building combined readiness across our formations.”

Lt. Gen. Masato Taura, commander of JGSDF’s Northern Army, also spoke at the ceremony about the opportunity to strengthen and understand each country’s warfighting force.

Following the generals’ remarks, servicemembers from both countries joined in a booming war cry to signify the exercise start: “Forward! Together!”

Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash.-based I Corps shifted its mission to the Pacific in 2012 as part of the Obama administration’s “Pacific pivot,” which is intended to refocus the nation’s priorities away from Afghanistan and Iraq to the Asian region.

In the past, I Corps soldiers have participated in war games on the Korean Peninsula and have traveled to India for the Yudh Abhyas exercise.

They have also played a role in increasing the Army’s presence in the region through Pacific Pathways, an initiative under which units of deployed U.S. soldiers remain in theater for two or three sequential exercises.

Yama Sakura, which means “mountain cherry blossoms” in Japanese, is scheduled to wrap up Sunday.

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This article is written by Christian Lopez from Stars and Stripes and was legally licensed via the Tribune Content Agency through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to