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NEWS | Nov. 29, 2022

Building Structures and Forging Bonds – a Visit to the Japanese Ground Self Defense Force Engineer School

By Patrick Ciccarone U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Japan District

ZAMA, KANAGAWA, Japan -- U.S. Army Corps of Engineers - Japan Engineer District’s (JED) commander, Col. Gary Bonham, made a visit to the Japanese Ground Self Defense Force’s (JGSDF) engineer school in Ibaraki, Japan, recently.

The meeting was the first time for Col. Bonham to tour the school and speak with the commandant, JGSDF Maj. General Yoshihiro Yamasaki, since he assumed command of JED. The event was marked with excitement by both groups.

“This kind of visit really highlights the importance of strengthening the U.S. and Japan alliance,” Bonham said. “Touring the engineer school is a great opportunity to exchange ideas and methodology.”

Accompanying Col. Bonham was Will Barlaan, JED’s operations officer, marking his second time visiting the school.

“Today is important, as it’s not only Col. Bonham’s inaugural meeting with the engineer school, but it’s also a great opportunity to discuss the current conflict in other regions,” Barlaan mentioned. “There were many lessons learned that we could share with the commandant.”

Situated in the ground self-defense force’s Camp Katsuta, just two hours northeast of Tokyo, the engineer school is the first stop for members of all of Japan’s self defense forces branches to begin their careers in the engineering field.

Founded in June of 1926, the long-standing school’s primary purpose is to educate and train incoming students and units on the skills necessary to become able and competent engineers – something JED has equal experience in but continues to foster through various bilateral opportunities.

“Working together with the JGSDF engineers allows us to grow just as much as they do,” Barlaan said. “Learning about some of the assets, equipment, and methodology Japan has can in turn help educate our engineers and keep them up-to-date with the latest practices.”

During the visit to the school, Col. Bonham sat down with Maj. Gen. Yamasaki and other administrators to overhear a brief on JGSDF’s engineering capabilities and share information on the current Japan – U.S. engineer exchange program, during which a JGSDF representative is slated to visit the U.S. Army Engineer School (USAES) to learn the latest engineering technology and techniques.

“While there are differences due to the JGSDF's focus on homeland defense and the U.S. military's focus on expeditionary operations, we recognize that the fundamental engineering methods are the same,” noted Yamasaki. “JED has made a significant contribution to sharing information regarding U.S. Army engineers and strengthening the relationships with the U.S. Army engineer school and other related organizations.”

In addition to discussing further opportunities for cultural and knowledge exchange, Col. Bonham, Mr. Barlaan, and Maj. Gen. Yamasaki went over lessons learned from the ongoing conflict between Russia and Ukraine.

While the office call’s priority was to exchange ideas and information, it wasn’t all business – the District’s commander and his liaisons were provided a tour of the school, where he was shown exhibits of equipment owned by the Japanese Engineer branch, as well as a peek into the “defense museum” and “engineer center” – facilities that showcase the storied growth of engineer school from foundation until now and included items from past armed conflicts and historic locales.

After a day of cultural exchange, learning, and touring, JED’s commander concluded his visit to the engineering school with a commemorative photo, an exchange of gifts, and a hardy handshake with his Japanese counterpart.

“I’m greatly touched by JED’s offer to further the relationship my schoolhouse has with American forces,” said Yamasaki. “We look forward to having more meetings like this in the future.”

Although the language barrier between English and Japanese was present, the love and deep understanding of the engineering career field was able to bring Col. Bonham and Maj. Gen. Yamasaki together, furthering the strong bilateral ties that the U.S. and Japan continue to forge at every possible opportunity.

“The JGSDF is an incredibly professional organization, with extremely high standards,” noted Bonham. “It’s always a pleasure to interact and work with them, whenever I have the opportunity.”

Within JED’s own engineer team, spread out between the snowy Misawa Air Base, temperate Camp Zama, and tropical Okinawa, The District is host to over 190 Japanese teammates, and these types of daily interaction with Japanese partners provides Bonham with both challenges, and opportunities, as he can learn more about the

culture of the country, and how engineering is approached by a different mindset.

“Meetings like these show me the value in being culturally sensitive, and fostering the relationships we have with the Japanese, both in the JGSDF and at home in JED,” Bonham said. “It strengthens the need for outreach between us [JED and the JGSDF], and I’ll continue to make every effort I can to support that need.”

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