YAKIMA, Wash. - The midday sun glistens off the transport buses as they roll to a stop. Moving with purpose, dozens of men disembark and retrieve their gear and baggage. Even out of uniform, these troops wear coordinated civilian attire in the form of matching white dress shirts and black trousers. Officers supervise as noncommissioned officers provide direction to the youngest among the group for barracks movement. This direction, however, is not in English, but Japanese.
Now in its 21st year, Rising Thunder brings together the finest soldiers the Japan Ground Self-Defense Force has to offer for the opportunity to train alongside their U.S. Army counterparts at Yakima Training Center here in Yakima, Aug. 27 through Sept. 13. This year is no different, as the 25th Infantry Regiment, part of Camp Asahikawa's 2nd Division, sends 123 of their fittest infantrymen to showcase what happens when allies serve together.
"One of the things I've noted while working with the Japan Ground Self-Defense Force is that they display a great deal of attention to detail and precision in what they do," said Sgt. Maj. Russ Creviston, the battalion operations sergeant major for 2nd Battalion, 130th Infantry Regiment, 33rd Infantry Brigade Combat Team, Illinois Army National Guard. "It is very clear that the structure and discipline of their force is a defining characteristic that they take a whole lot of pride in."
The name of the game for the 25th is attention to detail. Their vehicles are as uniform as their travel attire, parked perfectly in line and awaiting the start of the exercise. This attention to detail permeates every aspect of their service, from military bearing to execution of maneuvers.
"Unity and morale strengthens our unit," said Col. Onogi Hideki, commander of the 25th Inf. Reg. "We aim to learn Bushido and think 'maintain discipline,' including preserving manners. It is one of (our) spirits that we act as a member of society when we don't wear a uniform."
Putting the best foot forward when conducting international training is second nature to the 25th Inf. Reg. They are professionals from start to finish.
"Throughout the planning process for the exercise, the 2nd Division planners were meticulous in providing organized and detailed products to share with our battalion," said Creviston. "Their officers and soldiers are calculated in how they interact with our forces and how they present themselves."
JGSDF leaders selected these soldiers for their readiness and competence. Back home, they'll apply their training to emergency response efforts and community support missions. While at Rising Thunder, though, they're building relationships and representing their nation.
"We play basketball a lot with them, which is actually really fun," said Spc. Enrique Cardenas, an infantryman with the 1st Battalion, 178th Infantry Regiment, 33rd IBCT. "They're actually really fast. Even though communication is tough, with our language barriers, they still make the effort and we make the effort and it's actually surprising how fluid it's been."
Rising Thunder 2019 will culminate in a combined, bi-lateral exercise Sept. 11 that tests the mettle of the infantrymen as they push themselves and their American partners of the Illinois National Guard to mission success.
"25th Inf. Reg. hopes to carry out the mission as the core unit of collaboration with various occupations," said Onogi. "Precision is important in the collaboration occupations. For this reason, we always train while thinking about this."