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NEWS | Dec. 12, 2014

US, Japanese Sergeants Major Discuss Leadership at Yama Sakura Forum

By Sgt. 1st Class Jimmy Norris I Corps

Among dozens of cultural encounters during this year’s Yama Sakura was an ongoing exchange between the most senior noncommissioned officers participating in the exercise at Camp Asaka, Japan Dec. 10.

It’s an exchange that I Corps Command Sgt. Maj. James Norman helped start last year with the Japanese Northern Army to share best practices and talk about issues with complex solutions.
“We live in an age of alliances,” said Norman. “It’s amazing how much stronger we can become if we find a way to see one another’s perspectives.”

The meeting was hosted by Norman and Warrant Officer Naoto Nomura, command sergeant major of the Eastern Army.

One of the first issues addressed was how well troops from both countries were working together.

This was despite initial concerns by some of the Japanese warrant officers that there might be problems meshing with some sections, as the JGSDF doesn’t have staff sergeant major positions in as many of their functional areas as the U.S. The Japanese NCOs said they were happy to find those initial concerns had been unfounded.
U.S. Army Japan Command Sgt. Maj. Eric Dostie, said working well with other organizations is something the Japanese are very good at.

“We use the term interoperability,” Dostie said. “It allows us to ignore the bureaucratic red tape and reduces the time it takes to accomplish things. It’s something the U.S. Army struggles with even within our own services.”

Another topic that dominated a large portion of the one-hour forum was resiliency.

Norman said after 13 years of combat for U.S. service members and frequent humanitarian aid and disaster relief missions for the Japanese, resiliency was an important issue for services from both countries.

“I’ve always been taught that when you get knocked down you get back up. Anybody, any human being, regardless of rank or age can get hit so hard they’re not going to get back up,” Norman said. “One of the true tests of leadership is being able to recognize when a fellow Soldier just got knocked down and isn’t getting back up. I once got knocked down pretty hard and I got a helping hand. It just so happened to be from a warrant officer in the JGSDF.”

Both U.S. and Japanese senior NCOs repeatedly remarked on how much their Soldiers had in common with each other, and on how many of their leadership challenges were the same.

Norman summed up the lessons learned for many of the NCOs at YS 67.

“We’re more alike than we are different when it comes to the welfare of our Soldiers and the development of our junior leaders,” Norman said.

“This process of building total collaboration between our militaries will take years. It is not something that can happen in one encounter, or even in one exercise rotation,” he said. “Partnership takes engagement and dialogue. The more we benefit from each interaction, the more we will want to collaborate.”

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