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NEWS | Oct. 31, 2014

Utah Army National Guard Soldier bridges language gap during Orient Shield 14

By Army Master Sgt. Corrine Lombardo New York Army National Guard

CAMP HIGASHI-CHITOSE, Japan - Army Sgt. Keith Albretsen has a way with words. Literally. As a member of the Utah Army National Guard's D Company, 142nd Military Intelligence Battalion, he has been providing interpreter services to assist joint training between Soldiers of 3rd Battalion, 25th Combat Aviation Regiment from Wheeler Field, Hawaii, and the Japan Ground Self-Defense Force's 7th Aviation Unit from Sapporo, Japan, during Orient Shield 14, a bilateral field training exercise Oct. 27 - Nov. 7.

Orient Shield 14 brings together Soldiers from the 2nd Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Infantry Division from Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Washington, and JGSDF members from the 11th Infantry Regiment, 7th Division, Northern Army to conduct and improve U.S. Army and JGSDF bilateral operations and improve combat planning readiness through a series of combined light infantry, squad-level training events.

The two aviation units are engaged throughout the exercise, working side-by-side conducting scenario-based close combat air attacks, air assault missions and aero-medical evacuations.

"Having Albretsen on our team has been invaluable," said U.S. Army Maj. James Smith, operations officer with 3rd Bn., 25th Avn. Regt. "He's been a tremendous asset and has allowed us to streamline the process."

That's an important skill to have when it comes to aviation operations.

"The nuance and level of detailed technical information we convey is critical in aviation operations," Smith said. "There is no room for error or confusion."

These same sentiments were echoed by Japanese Maj. Endo Makoto, executive officer assigned to the 7th Avn. Unit.

"Sgt. Albretsen's ability is making it possible for U.S. and JGSDF to work together and succeed in Orient Shield," Makoto said.

Albretsen, has been speaking Japanese for just over seven years. He learned the language in preparation for a two-year missionary mission in Tokyo, where he served as a volunteer representative for his church.

Orient Shield is a Total Army endeavor. Albretsen volunteered for his second assignment as an interpreter in Japan when U.S. Army Japan reached out to Army National Guard units for language assets. He will return later this year to support a third exercise partnering U.S. Army Soldiers and JGSDF members.

"You see firsthand and can really appreciate the importance of communication and how difficult it is to accomplish anything, if you don't understand each other," Albretsen said.

For his mission here he feels like he is learning a whole new language - aviation.

"The hardest part so far has been learning all the aviation terms and acronyms," he said. "It's like its own language and I know how important it is that the terminology is correct."

Albretsen is aiding Orient Shield 14 leaders to meet their goal of integrating U.S. Army and JGSDF personnel to exchange ideas, tactics, techniques and military experiences.

"I'm really glad to help, since this is a great opportunity for military aviators from the U.S. and Japan to work together," Albretsen said.