English classes at Japanese base give Camp Zama soldiers a chance to teach and learn
Free accommodations for a week and visits to historical sites, along with friendly escorts and frequent dinners at local hot spots.
No, it’s not a vacation; it’s part of a military English program.
U.S. soldiers from Camp Zama, Japan, volunteer to participate in the Cultural Language Exchange Program, spending a week at Camp Kodaira, home to the Japan Ground Self-Defense Force’s only foreign language school, helping Japanese soldiers with their English conversational skills and military terminology.
Most soldiers see the program as an opportunity to learn more about their host nation’s military and its servicemembers. They rarely come back disappointed after a week of teaching and socializing.
"We’d socialize and eat, drink and talk about anything and everything," said Master Sgt. Frederick Moore, who instructed at the basic English course during the first week of February. "Everybody came and talked and asked questions. They weren’t shy at all, which I really liked."
According to Camp Zama’s Command Sgt. Maj. William Franklin, only top-notch soldiers are selected to represent the base in the program. He said the relaxed atmosphere is one of its strengths.
"They can be honest with each other," Franklin said of the interaction between the Japanese and American troops. "And when they do that, they lower down the walls of political correctness and really get to learn about one another."
Both officers and enlisted soldiers can volunteer as instructors for either the advanced or basic English course. Zama officers work with Japanese officers, and enlisted teach enlisted.
First Lt. Hiroshi Koishi was part of a class that graduated in late January. As is customary in the program, the class recently spent a day visiting Camp Zama and their former instructors. Koishi said one quality in his Zama counterparts stood out.
"Above all, the leadership is most impressive for me," he said. "I thought we have to learn about leadership more deeply."
The two militaries also participated in a joint PT session during the week at Kodaira. The Ground Self-Defense Force recently adopted the U.S. Army style of warm-up and cool-down exercises, and circuit training. Exercise leaders give their instructions in English and call cadence in English when running in formation.
"It was cool to see them do everything exactly the same way we do," said 1st Lt. Eugene Page, an officer instructor.
During their visit to Zama, the Japanese students spent the day learning about Zama’s history and role in Japan.
"It’s just nice to see them again because you kind of establish bonds with them," Page said. "It’s nice to try to reciprocate some of the hospitality we received."