U.S. AIR FORCE ACADEMY, Colo. –
In 2001, Japan Air Self-Defense Force Maj. Kazuto Ueda, then a cadet at Japan's National Defense Academy (NDA), visited the U.S. Air Force Academy for a week.
Never in his wildest dreams did he think he'd return here 12 years later to teach Japanese history, military and culture to American cadets.
Every year, the Academy and Japan's NDA exchange an officer to teach military and strategic studies for two years. Ueda, the Academy's 17th Japanese exchange officer, arrived in 2013.
"During my time here, I've improved my teaching skills, language ability, knowledge about the U.S. military, and established good professional and personal relationships with many U.S. officers," he said.
Ueda landed the opportunity to teach U.S. cadets through the Academy's Military Personnel Exchange Program. The program includes international officers from France, Germany, Japan, South Korea and Spain, serving on the faculty and teaching foreign language and culture courses. The purpose is to build, sustain and expand international relations.
"It's an opportunity for us to share cultural ways of thinking and attitude," Ueda said. "The program enables cadets to feel more comfortable experiencing another culture or military and prepares them to go abroad."
In 2011, when Ueda was stationed at Misawa Air Base, Japan, he witnessed the Great East Japan Earthquake and joined Operation Tomodachi, where thousands of U.S. service members assisted and supported Japan following the disaster.
"I really appreciated the U.S support at that time," he said. "This experience motivated me to become an exchange officer in the U.S."
While here, Ueda has also assisted with the Japanese language class and supported the weekly Japanese language conversation practice round-table discussions.
"I enjoy teaching on Japanese military, which most Japanese language textbooks don't cover," he said. "To understand more about what cadets do in Airmanship programs here, I joined Airmanship 490 (Basic Jump Training) in 2014 and earned my jump wings."
Ueda said he teaches five classes and interacts with more than 100 cadets.
"Spending time with cadets is my favorite aspect of the job," he said. "I think they really enjoy interacting with a native Japanese speaker. Most of them are motivated to study, listen carefully and take good notes."
He said his biggest challenge in the role has been the language barrier.
"Sometimes I only understand 75-80 percent of what someone is saying," he said. "My English has improved significantly since working here for two years."
Ueda said he's learned more of an interactive way of teaching at the Academy.
"There are not many experts in the field of the cyber and space in Japan, so it's been a nice opportunity for me to learn basic knowledge in these fields through teaching cadets and having educational discussions with them," he said. "I believe understanding U.S. ways of thinking will help me in joint campaigns or U.S.-Japan contingency planning in the future."
Through events such as the Japanese Tomodachi Dinner, hosted by the Academy's commandant of cadets and other events, Ueda and his wife Toshiko have established memorable professional and personal relationships.
"We've had a lot of opportunities to socialize," he said. "In Japan, I would attend most events by myself. It's been a good opportunity for my wife to better understand my job and we've been overwhelmed by the kindness and hospitality of leaders and others here."
Brig. Gen. Stephen Williams, the commandant of cadets, said Ueda is a great example of a professional officer and has been an inspiration to thousands of cadets.
"He and Toshiko have helped increase our understanding of the Japanese culture by selflessly sharing their culture with many cadets and permanent party here," he said. "His efforts to improve U.S.-Japan relations come from the heart."
It's important to expose cadets to exchange officers so they can improve their acceptance and respect for other cultures, Williams said.
"Improving cooperation between countries happen one person at a time," he said. "Cadets will represent the U.S. as officers. This program gives them the chance to work with foreign officers now, which will improve relations in the future."
Ueda will return to Japan in July to begin an assignment at the Air Staff Office in Tokyo.