YOKOTA AIR BASE, Japan -- For over 20 years, Yokota Air Base, Japan has participated in the Bilateral Exchange Program, in which Japan Air Self-Defense Force Airmen experience what it’s like to work as U.S. Air Force Airmen.
This year’s 14 day program gave a chance for all Airmen to learn, grow and strengthen relationships together.
Kuniko Takamizu, 374th Airlift Wing protocol specialist, has been facilitating this program for the last five years and expressed the importance of this program, saying it allows both USAF and JASDF Airmen an unforgettable opportunity to learn from each other.
“Although the Airmen have similar jobs, it’s good to have the JASDF counterparts share their experiences; they might have better ideas or procedures,” she said. “Eventually we may have to work together for humanitarian activities and this experience will help them when in a combined environment.”
From day one to day 14, from Security Forces to Airfield Management, from packing parachutes to maintaining C-5 Super Galaxies, and everywhere in between, Yokota Airmen provided 100 percent support to their Kokujieitai counterparts.
U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Latisha Langley, and Airman 1st Class Michael Wilson, 374th Security Forces Squadron patrolmen, showed their partner, JASDF Staff Sgt. Yusuke Rikimaru, 11th Flight Training Wing military police assigned to Shizuhama Air Base, Japan, what it’s like to be a Yokota SFS Airman.
“Wilson and I took Rikimaru on installation patrols, checked IDs at the gate, and searched vehicles with military working dogs,” said Langley.
After the duty day was done, the Airmen explored the local area together, developing the relationship even further.
“Off duty we went to Dunkin’ Donuts, Subway, and Popeye’s,” Langley said. “We also visited the SkyTree (in Tokyo), viewed waterfalls, and did flight bowling.”
Every opportunity together made the most challenging part of the program, the language barrier, easier to overcome.
“On Rikimaru's first day he was given the opportunity to introduce himself at Guardmount,” said Langley. “We had an interpreter to make him feel more at ease. Day after day I witness him become more comfortable with myself and Wilson and he would challenge himself more with his English.”
While being new to a shop can be overwhelming, Senior Airman Jonathon Geoffrion, 730th Air Mobility Squadron aircraft journeyman, said his shop’s camaraderie towards JASDF Tech. Sgt. Masato Sengoku, aircraft maintainer assigned with Komaki Air Base, Japan, made this transition seamless.
“Everyone took Sengoku in like he was one with the 730th family,” said Geoffrion.
The past 21 years of the Bilateral Exchange Program has allowed Japanese and American Airmen a unique opportunity to create an unforgettable experience; making our Air Force families that much bigger.
“This program is an excellent tool for Yokota Airmen to work alongside our local foreign military counterparts,” said Geoffrion. “It helps us to realize how much we have in common even though we speak different languages and we come from two different cultures.”