Green Berets practice securing remote islands with elite Japanese paratroopers
By CARLOS M. VAZQUEZ II AND AYA ICHIHASHI | STARS AND STRIPES Published: January 16, 2019
CAMP FOSTER, Okinawa — Special Forces soldiers recently joined elite servicemembers from Japan’s 1st Airborne Brigade for parachute drills that simulated defending remote Japanese islands.
The Japan Ground Self-Defense Force hosted the exercise Sunday at Narashino Training Area in Chiba prefecture, showcasing for the public its ability in joint air and land operations.
Japanese defense minister Takeshi Iwaya attended the drill, along with about 10,000 spectators. This is the third year the U.S. Army has participated.
About 70 Green Berets stationed on Okinawa and in Alaska participated in this year’s event, jumping 5,500 feet from JGSDF helicopters, while the Japanese paratroopers jumped from Kawasaki C-2 transport aircraft.
“It was a huge honor for the team and I to participate in this drill with the Japanese,” said Capt. Neil Kanneberg, 1st Battalion, 1st Special Forces Group detachment commander for nine jumpers at the event. “There were stands full of civilians watching us, and my team has never experienced jumping next to a crowd that large.”
Iwaya told reporters after the exercise he believes the joint drill builds stronger relationships between the two countries. Kanneberg agreed.
“The strength of our organization is in the partnership and friendships we are able to make with our allies,” he said. “Our bread and butter are the relationships and knowledge we are able to make and share with our partners.”
Once on the ground, the nations’ forces gathered for a ceremony in which they pinned their respective services’ airborne wings on one another’s uniforms.
“It was all smiles,” Kanneberg said. “It was a grand experience, and I enjoyed hanging out with everyone.”
Japanese servicemembers also exhibited vehicles and aircraft and demonstrated martial arts for the public during the drill.
“I believe that this practice shows how closely the defense forces work together [for] our people,” Iwaya said.
The resource-rich Senkaku islands in the East China Sea have long been a point of contention between Japan and China. The uninhabited island chain between Okinawa and Taiwan are claimed by Japan, Taiwan and China, which refers to them as Diaoyu.
The United States has long declined to take a position on the islands’ sovereignty; however, Presidents Barack Obama and Donald Trump have both declared the Senkakus will be protected under the U.S-Japan security alliance.