A C-130 Hercules with the 36th Airlift Squadron became the first U.S. Aircraft to drop Japan Ground Self-Defense Force members on U.S. soil, Aug. 12, 2015, during RED FLAG-Alaska.
The JGSDF company, with the 3rd Battalion, 1st Airborne Brigade, alongside the U.S. Army's 1st Battalion (Airborne), 501st Infantry Regiment, jumped from the C-130 Hercules, showcasing just one example of RED FLAG-Alaska's capability to bring military powers together to train.
"It is great that we are to the point now that we are able to drop JGSDF from U.S. aircraft," said 1st Lt. Sydney Croxton, 36 AS C-130 Hercules pilot, who flew the aircraft with the Army and JGSDF members onboard. "Hopefully this creates opportunities in Japan and allows for more opportunities to conduct similar training."
The sentiment of Croxton is shared between Lt. Col. Masayasu Igarashi, JGSDF commander of 3rd Battalion, 1st Airborne Brigade; and Capt. Kyle Soler, commander of Blackfoot Company, 1-501, who both believe that the combined training will pave the way for future collaboration and strengthen bonds between the two nations.
"Working with the Japanese military increases bonds and friendships, but also increases the understanding of the strategic value of our partnership and how it is perceived throughout the world," Soler said. "I think we are a big success as far as that is concerned."
The jump highlighted the U.S.-Japan partnership in the Indo-Asia Pacific region, but the aircraft was just one moving piece in a large-scale airfield seizure during RED FLAG-Alaska, the first of its kind to place during the exercise's history.
RED FLAG-Alaska, typically a fighter-centric exercise, allows aircrew to gain experience in a high-end combat environment while building relationships with multiple nations and increasing interoperability. The airfield seizure, while maintaining the training's focus, allowed mobility aircraft to take center stage and practice personnel airdrops in a combat-active airspace.
The scenario: An air convoy of C-130s would deliver dozens of ground troops to the designated location while conducting combat maneuvers and disengages. Fighters, aggressors and defenders, cluttered the airspace simultaneously; simulating either attempting to shoot down the C-130s or protecting them and ensuring the bodies on board made it to their location safely.
According to Maj. A.J. Baker, 36 AS and air mission commander for the training scenario, the airlift focus dynamically changes decision processes during flights.
"Now it isn't just their individual aircraft that they are defending, it is a train of C-130s that have 60 plus individuals on board depending on the aircraft type," Baker added.
Although it was airlift centered, the training included a large group of multinational players and a wide-range of aircraft. The U.S., The Republic of Korea, Japan Air Self-Defense Force, Royal Air Force, Royal Australian Air Force, Royal New Zealand Air Force and Royal Thai Air Force, all played a role in the airfield seizure. Whether flying cargo, fighter or support aircraft, seven countries integrated into the scenario.
"The majority of objectives were met," Baker said. "Strike took out all the targets; enabling a safe operation for the Army and our escort did a really good job of protecting us [airlift assets]."
Baker said the exercise scenario set a new standard for multinational exercises and the possible scenarios that play a part in the training.
"I would be willing to bet that next year they will want to do it bigger," Baker said in regards to both the JGSDF jump and the airfield seizure. "Every training event that we do we take what we learned and we look to the future. We ask ourselves, 'how can we do it better next time?'
"It shows the growth between our [Japan-U.S.] friendship and collaboration," Baker said. "Its definitely a plus for our continued cooperation and the common defense of Japan and the Pacific region."
As for the 36 AS, Baker said flying and training at and around Yokota is great for aircrew, but it is never done on the scale that is allowed in the 67,000-mile air space over JBER.
"When we train at home, we are establishing building blocks," Baker said. "Red Flag-Alaska allows us to see our entire mission package pulled together and in full action."
On the ground
Once on the ground, the U.S. and JGSDF teams conducted a bilateral seizure of objectives essential to allowing aircraft landings.
"Tactically speaking, when you are on the ground, everyone seems to speak the same language, so we found it easy to work with the JGSDF," Soler said. "They are highly proficient and well trained at their capabilities. We are just exposing them to a little more than they typically do at once. It is good to push their limits a little and to also push the limits of our own Soldiers and see what they are capable of."
Soler said his Japanese counterparts showed commendable approaches to solving problems. He said the JGSDF were very deliberate in their development and training and it reflected in their concise responses on the field.
"We have limited real-world contingency experience, but the unit we were training with has experience in a lot of areas," said Igarashi. "We have a lot that we can learn from them, allowing us to strengthen our own units."
Igarashi said, although there were minor differences between the units, none affected the mission
"There are differences in training and procedures, but when it comes to the heart and soul [of people], there are no differences no matter what country you come from," Igarashi said.
Gaining operational experience is the focus of training, but the nations gain more than mission planning and execution as they train together. Igarashi said the U.S. Soldiers taught him and his men a valuable lesson in relaxing and introduced them to aspects of American culture.
"For us, we learned that when you work, you work, but you also need to relax," Igarashi said. "The U.S. Soldiers showed us how they relax in between missions."
According to Igarashi, his troops were taken to downtown Anchorage to tour the town, shops and restaurants.
"For a lot of our troops this is the first time they have ever been to a foreign country and they received a grand tour," Igarashi added.