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Spc. Sean Kagawa and Staff Sgt. Katie Verinder examine a Japan Ground Self-Defense Force armored vehicle on display at the JGSDF Public Affairs Center. They were among five Camp Zama soldiers and five Okinawa-based Marines who spent a week touring JGSDF installations as part of the Observer Exchange Program.

Spc. Sean Kagawa and Staff Sgt. Katie Verinder examine a Japan Ground Self-Defense Force armored vehicle on display at the JGSDF Public Affairs Center. They were among five Camp Zama soldiers and five Okinawa-based Marines who spent a week touring JGSDF installations as part of the Observer Exchange Program. (Photos courtesy of Japan Ground Self-Defense Force)

Spc. Sean Kagawa and Staff Sgt. Katie Verinder examine a Japan Ground Self-Defense Force armored vehicle on display at the JGSDF Public Affairs Center. They were among five Camp Zama soldiers and five Okinawa-based Marines who spent a week touring JGSDF installations as part of the Observer Exchange Program.

Spc. Sean Kagawa and Staff Sgt. Katie Verinder examine a Japan Ground Self-Defense Force armored vehicle on display at the JGSDF Public Affairs Center. They were among five Camp Zama soldiers and five Okinawa-based Marines who spent a week touring JGSDF installations as part of the Observer Exchange Program. (Photos courtesy of Japan Ground Self-Defense Force)

Verinder examines the cockpit of a JGSDF helicopter. "The most interesting part for me was talking to the Japanese soldiers about their training and what was expected of them," Verinder said.

Verinder examines the cockpit of a JGSDF helicopter. "The most interesting part for me was talking to the Japanese soldiers about their training and what was expected of them," Verinder said. ()

CAMP ZAMA, Japan — The first few times she was saluted by a Japanese soldier, Staff Sgt. Katie Verinder was caught by surprise. But she soon learned that it was just another of many differences between the U.S. and Japanese militaries.

Verinder, a flute player with the U.S. Army Japan Band, was one of five Camp Zama soldiers to participate in the Observer Exchange Program, which sent enlisted U.S. troops to learn about their Japan Ground Self-Defense Force counterparts. Five Marines on Okinawa also participated.

The annual event is held in conjunction with a Japanese live-fire exercise, demonstrating JGSDF’s firepower. Each year a different Kanto Plain-based unit hosts the event, according to U.S. Army Japan officials. This year’s was held Aug. 21-25 at Camps Nerima and Asaka.

"The most interesting part for me was talking to the Japanese soldiers about their training and what was expected of them," Verinder said of touring several JGSDF installations and living with Japanese troops.

She said she learned the Japanese troops do a lot of their training in small groups.

"Everything that they did was flawless," said Spc. Sean Kagawa, also with the USARJ Band. "There was a lot of attention to detail."

The exchange program is among many that USARJ participates in every year, said USARJ Command Sgt. Maj. William P. Franklin. Each year about 150 U.S. soldiers visit JGSDF units, with more than 1,100 Japanese soldiers visiting U.S. Army installations, he said.

By building these personal relationships, he said, troops will think of their foreign counterparts as "my friend, instead of just my ally."

The Americans also learned that even in basic training, soldiers have access to a traditional Japanese-style bathhouse.

Kagawa said that the single Japanese soldiers they visited all live in large open-air barracks similar to the one he lived in during basic training and that married servicemembers live off base.

They were also surprised to learn the JGSDF soldiers had to eat all their meals in the base dining facility.

And as far as getting saluted by other enlisted soldiers?

Verinder said she learned that the salutes were based not so much on rank, but on respect for the American soldiers.

"As hosts, they were so welcome and accommodating," she said.


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