OJOJIHARA MANEUVER AREA, Japan — The air is saturated and dense, the fog is sinking toward the ground and what seemed like an unlikely chance of rain, now seems certain. Making their way up the side of the mountain, Hoosier Guardsmen are in unfamiliar territory, but this is business as usual for the Japan Ground Self-Defense Force as both sides train and support each other during Orient Shield 2018.
Orient Shield is the last stop for these Indiana National Guard members who embarked months ago on a multinational series of exercises known as Pacific Pathways. The unique demands of Orient Shield, which focus on development and refinement of the JGSDF and U.S. Army's efforts of bilateral tactical planning, coordination and interoperability prove that even in the homestretch there is still much left to be learned during Pacific Pathways.
"It's been a very rewarding experience to just sit back and watch how the Japanese operate," said Col. Robert Burke, commander of the 76th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, which is the first National Guard unit to lead a leg of Pacific Pathways. "They have a different way of seeing the problem set in front of them and the terrain just as we do, but there are multiple ways to solve problems, so being able to do it collectively is extremely beneficial for both of us."
Cpt. Matthew Hygema, a Pacific Pathways planner, said Orient Shield shows the importance of bilateral operations that emphasize live-fire training and dismounted movements that require an exchange of techniques and tactics.
"The Pathways exercises are dual-purpose," said Hygema. "On one side, it's about building security cooperation and building and maintaining relationships with our partners, but it's also about building readiness."
Indiana's 2nd Battalion, 151st Infantry Regiment was ready and up to the task. Members of the unit were able to strengthen the alliance with their partners while breaking through language barriers and successfully completing three live-fire iterations side-by-side with the JGSDF.
"I certainly think we showed them a different way of doing things," said 1st Sgt. Josh Harveth, who led iterations of the live-fire exercises. "There was a little more willingness to accept a bit of risk and fire and maneuver at the same time. It was very beneficial for both of us."
Adding to the experience, the Hoosier Guard members were thrown an unexpected curveball when Typhoon Jebi, the strongest typhoon to hit Japan's mainland in 25 years, closed in on the island midway through the exercise and delayed multiple training events while units prepared for a potential natural disaster.
Indiana National Guard State Command Sgt. Maj. James Gordon said that the joint response to the approaching typhoon — in keeping with the National Guard motto "Always Ready, Always There" —showed the value of the exercise, which was designed to enhance Japan and United States combat readiness and interoperability.
"Our Guardsmen were able to prioritize lines of effort for the evacuation while still fulfilling our training requirements with our partners. From both sides, the process was flawless," he said.