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NEWS | Dec. 4, 2023

Ceremony Opens Yama Sakura 85 for Australian, U.S. Troops, JGSDF Members

By Sgt. 1st Class Michael Sword, 11th Airborne Division

With the temperatures outside below freezing, American soldiers from the U.S. Army's 11th Airborne Division and Japan Ground Self-Defense Force members stood tall, saluting the flags of their home countries. And for the first time in 41 years, Australian soldiers were alongside them, saluting their own.

Yama Sakura 85, now a trilateral command post exercise, continues the exercise’s long history of U.S. and Japanese cooperation adding a third participating partner country, bringing the soldiers of the Australian Army’s 1st division to the shores of Hokkaido.

“Australia's participation in Exercise Yama Sakura 85 is a significant step forward in our trilateral relationship,” said Maj. Gen. Scott Winter, commanding general of the Australian Army’s 1st Division. “After being observers of this excellent exercise for 10 years, we are very proud to have been invited to be full participants in this iteration.”

Matching the trilateral nature of the exercise, the opening ceremony at Camp Higashi-Chitose was just one across Japan, with two more happening simultaneously at Camp Sendai and Camp Asaka.

With nearly 6,000 troops representing the three countries across four locations in Japan and Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Washington State, U.S.A., YS 85 is a demonstration of projecting and sustaining forces outside the exercise’s simulation, while pushing the limits within it.

“Over the next 10 days, our forces will participate in complex, challenging operations, including Multi-Domain Operations and with the JGSDF, Cross-Domain Operations,” said U.S. Army Maj. Gen. David B. Womack, commanding general of U.S. Army Japan. “There are things that only combat divisions can do, and to have combat divisions part of this exercise signifies a commitment and a difference from what has occurred in the previous 41 years.”

The presence of two U.S. divisions and an Australian division at this year’s Yama Sakura is an evolution sprung from both the long history of the exercise and events across the globe.

“I think it is essential to fundamentally reinforce our defense capabilities, and to further strengthen the deterrence and the response capabilities of the Japan-U.S. alliance in the region, to reinforce cooperation with like minded countries,” said Lt. Gen. Hiroaki Sueyoshi, commanding general of the Northern Army JGSDF.

While the exercise is primarily focused on readiness and improved operations between partner nations, YS 85 also helps build relationships in a way that’s unique to multi-national exercises.

“If you walk out of this building at night you will see Japanese, Americans and Australians gathered around, making plans, talking about the exercise,” said Womack. “But also talking about what matters to each other,” said Womack.

For more than forty years, Yama Sakura has demonstrated the strength of the relationship between the U.S. and Japan, and with the addition of Australia as an exercise participant, that commitment to a free and open Indo-Pacific grows more resolute.

“On behalf of general Flynn, the commander of U.S. Army Pacific, and also Lieutenant general Brunson, America’s First Corps, welcome to the start of Yama Sakura 85,” said Womack.