HOKKAIDO, Japan –
A closing ceremony hosted by the Japanese Ground Self-Defense Force (JGSDF) Northern Army was held marking the completion of North Wind 2024 at Camp Higashi-Chitose, Jan. 31.
Over 150 U.S. Soldiers and 650 JGSDF members participated in this exercise, which was the 31st iteration of North Wind. The bilateral cold-weather field training exercise gives the allied nations a chance to share their respective tactics, techniques and procedures with each other and develop their forces’ experience in new environments.
The U.S. Army was represented by U.S. Paratroopers with 1st Battalion, 501st Parachute Regiment, 2nd Infantry Brigade, 11th Airborne Division from Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Alaska, who also participated in the last full exercise, North Wind 2015.
“I really enjoyed working out here with the JGSDF - I feel like we learned a lot from them, and we shared a lot of knowledge in return,” said Spc. Dalton Crisp, M240 machine gunner for Blackfoot Company’s second platoon. “You never know what you’re going to learn, or who you’ll learn it from; coming (from Alaska) over the Pacific for an exercise in another country can seem a bit daunting for some, but when you keep an open mind you’ll find you learn a lot.”
Following the opening ceremony on Jan. 22, the units began cold weather training together, beginning with skiing and skijoring - skiing while towed by a JGSDF Type 10 Snowcat.
“Skiing and skijoring was my favorite event - it was really fun to do that with their skilled master skiers and instructors,” said Crisp.
The Soldiers and JGSDF members exchanged knowledge and techniques with their specialties, sharing their proficiency with Tactical Combat Casualty Care and medical evacuation, use of mortars and laser range finders, signal equipment and their respective firearms.
“I was very impressed by how the JGSDF adapt to the winter in their training - their skiing and snow shoe training is very advanced,” said Staff Sgt. Riley Flink, platoon sergeant for Blackfoot Company’s third platoon.
After covering tactics and use of firearms, the live-fire ranges focused on real-world scenarios, such as moving as a squad and returning fire during snowy and icy conditions. The allies shared their sniping techniques, and a display by the JGSDF showed how their machine gunners move on skis to advance position while receiving enemy fire.
“It was great to see a comparison of how they run machine gun ranges, compared to ours,” said Flink. “Our Soldiers better appreciate the relationship we have with the JGSDF - there’s a lot we’ve taught each other during the exercise. The Soldiers definitely had a great time out here.”
Competition was held where squads with both allies tested their speed and marksmanship, with squad members running across snow 50 yards and back, loading their weapons and firing on targets 30 yards away. Crowds of Soldiers and JGSDF cheered for their comrades as each squad participated in the contest.
“Building camaraderie through competition, it makes for a stronger fighting force,” said Sgt. James Markloff, squad leader for Blackfoot Company’s second platoon. “Our Japanese allies, they’re a formidable force - they’re very big on discipline, very similar focus on training. Some things we’re better at, some things they’re better at, and it’s great to see ‘who’s boss’ head-to-head.”
Squads representing both sides won different iterations of the contest, showing the remarkable proficiency held by both of the ally nations.
“My Soldiers learned a lot (from the JGSDF members) during fortification training,” said Markloff. “We shared the ones we use in Anchorage, and we were shown new techniques by the allies. Seeing how they hold up in real time gives a new perspective on fighting in the arctic.”
The forces transitioned into a field exercise, where the troops applied the skills they had trained on in a practical scenario, marching on skis while equipped with their weapons and dragging sleds over seven miles before camping. During the field exercise, the focus was a mock attack by U.S. Paratroopers against a defense consisting of a bilateral force made of JGSDF members and U.S. Paratroopers.
“The (JGSDF members) were really nice, really accepting - and they’re pretty funny too,” said Crisp. “They’re the same as us infantrymen, they laugh at and make the same jokes as us, they’re always ready to jump in and help, and do whatever it takes to get the job done. Being so compatible with each other, it helps us to put the mission first and succeed.”