US-Japanese troops practice recapturing territory during Orient Shield drills
By LEON COOK | STARS AND STRIPES Published: September 20, 2017
EAST FUJI MANEUVER AREA, Japan — U.S. and Japanese troops trained to retake territory occupied by an invading force during live-fire drills near Mount Fuji on Tuesday.
Six hundred members of the Alaska-based 1st Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division worked with an equal number of Japanese troops from the 34th Infantry Regiment, 1st Division, Eastern Army during the annual Orient Shield exercise.
The Japanese troops are being encouraged to be more aggressive than in the past, not only defending positions, but working to recapture ground taken by invaders, said Lt. Col. Josh Davis, commander of the Army’s 3rd Battalion, 21st Infantry Regiment.
In one drill, Japanese artillery pummeled the countryside before U.S. and Japanese infantry and fighting vehicles moved forward to seize objectives. After the attack, Japanese forces took up defensive positions while U.S. soldiers stayed on offense, Davis said.
“The Japanese are masters of defense,” he said. “Their ability to defend is unmatched.”
The scenario reflected increased tension in a region where North Korea launched a second missile over Japan’s northern island of Hokkaido late last week. That happened just days after Japan Ground Self-Defense Force 1st Division commander Lt. Gen. Shoichi Shibata talked about a “grave situation” at the Orient Shield opening ceremony.
The focus on recapturing territory also saw troops train to enter and clear buildings, an unusual task for the defense-centric Japanese.
“It’s in line with the Japanese self-defense plan,” Davis said. “After an incursion from an adversary they will go on the offense and then transition back to the defense.”
While the infantry and artillery were putting lead on targets, U.S. and Japanese medics practiced evacuations using each other’s helicopters.
“The Japanese medics are very highly trained and I’m confident in their skills,” said 1st Lt. Preston Keim, a physician assistant with 3-21 Infantry.
Orient Shield concludes Monday after two weeks of training.