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Joint exercise testing Army's newest units in Pacific

CAMP KENGUN, Japan — Setting up everything soldiers need to fight – from a combat operations center to a morgue – the U.S. Army’s newest units in the Pacific are cutting their chops at a bilateral war game in southwestern Japan.

The U.S.-Japan Yama Sakura exercise is “critical training” for U.S. Army Pacific’s Hawaii-based Contingency Command Post and I Corps Forward in Japan, said Lt. Gen. Benjamin Mixon, commander of USARPAC.

The new units — each with roughly 100 soldiers — are designed to quickly deploy during a crisis and establish command-and-control headquarters for combat or humanitarian operations.

While I Corps Forward will focus on crises in Japan, Mixon’s deployable command post in Hawaii would respond to any contingency from Alaska to the Maldives.

The two new units are part of USARPAC’s transformation, which also includes assuming responsibility for supporting Army operations into South Korea by Oct. 1. The goal is to allow 8th Army in South Korea to focus on its war-fighting mission, Mixon said.

There are also plans to bring Japan’s newest army contingency force to U.S. Army Japan headquarters at Camp Zama near Tokyo, which will streamline quick-response capabilities, he said.

During the weeklong exercise, U.S. and Japanese ground forces are coordinating communications, intelligence-sharing and troop movements in various simulated combat scenarios – from a missile attack to a full-scale invasion of Japan.

Some 1,500 U.S. and 4,500 Japanese troops are taking part in the exercise, which runs through Thursday at Camp Kengun.

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In addition to improved military relations, the Yama Sakura exercise is contributing “to the implementation of Japan’s new dynamic defense capability,” said Lt. Gen. Shunzo Kizaki, commander of the Western Army, which covers the southwest and the some 2,500 outlying islands in that region.

Japan new defense guidelines, released in December, call for beefing up defenses in the southwest and its outlying islands — including the Senkakus that China also claims – and keeping in check an increasingly hostile North Korea.

Japan’s national security strategy is based on the U.S.-Japan alliance and these exercises contribute to the country’s ability to deter possible threats, Kizaki said.

The regional army has increased surveillance missions in the wake of North Korea’s latest provocations, but Yama Sakura is not focused on a particular threat, he said.

Asked to respond to criticism that such joint exercises might provoke Pyongyang, Mixon said: “In a free society, dissenters are allowed to dissent and voice their opinion. So in order to protect that freedom, we must do exercises like this to ensure we have the skills to continue to live in free and vibrant societies like we have in Japan and the United States of America.”

reedc@pstripes.osd.mil

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