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YOKOTA AIR BASE, Japan — When Japan’s Air Defense Command moved to Yokota Air Base from the nearby Fuchu Air Base early last year, a flurry of building projects on Yokota was undertaken to provide for an influx of about 700 personnel belonging to the Japan Air Self-Defense Force.

While much of that construction has been completed, social and cultural integration between Japanese and American airmen on Yokota is only beginning.

Many enlisted U.S. airmen at Yokota remain rather isolated from their Japanese counterparts.

“That’s one thing I’ve found — even working with 700 to 1,000 Japanese, I didn’t really interact with them at all,” said Master Sgt. Daniel Chapman, a medic on a two-year assignment as a career assistance adviser at Yokota Air Base.

“Even though we are on the base together, a lot of our daily interactions and missions don’t cross. As a medic, well, they don’t use our medical facilities so I don’t normally see any JASDF members.”

Now, relations between the two sides are getting a boost through joint professional enhancement courses, managed by Chapman, for enlisted Japanese and American airmen.

For one week each month, 30 to 50 airmen are selected to attend the course, which aims to prepare them for leadership as they advance in rank.

Since March, the seminars have included a growing number of Japanese airmen who get a chance to see how the U.S. Air Force prepares its enlisted airmen for greater responsibility. A recent seminar included eight JASDF airmen from bases around Japan.

“I have no chance to meet U.S. military personnel right now at Kasuga Air Base,” said Tech. Sgt. Hiroyuki Kawano, who attended the seminar at Yokota, the headquarters for U.S. Forces Japan.

Chief Master Sgt. Manuel Roblesreynoso said that when he arrived in Yokota last fall, he was given the overriding directive to strengthen the relationship with the JASDF at the enlisted level.

The seminars initiated out of that directive are “designed to increase camaraderie and force awareness while strengthening joint and bilateral relations between allied forces,” he said.

The courses vary month to month, and some are quite specific to the professional development of American airmen, such as military writing. But others, such as courses on ethics, conflict management and stress management can give Japanese airmen a quick and clear window into the U.S. Air Force’s perception of problems and solutions. They also give the airmen a chance to interact; volunteer translators are on hand for JASDF personnel who need them.

For example, during the conflict resolution section, the airmen were divided into groups and told they needed to prioritize 15 items salvaged as their imaginary boat caught fire and was now slowly sinking. The list included everything from a shaving mirror and fishing kit to a quart of rum and two boxes of chocolate bars.

Chapman had secretly assigned some airmen to act as agitators so that consensus on the list’s order wouldn’t be reached too easily. Despite that, each group eked out lists based on competing arguments of what was most and least useful 1,000 miles away from the nearest land.

Asked later if that exercise would be at all useful in resolving conflict in his own air unit, Kawano said with a laugh, “That’s a tough question.”

He said that resolving conflict among Japanese is perhaps more difficult because the parties involved would be reluctant to forcefully express their opinions.

Aside from the actual seminar courses, the weeklong gatherings offer a chance to socialize by sharing lunches and dinners and developing friendships.

Chapman said he’s been impressed how the members of some classes have bonded. “The last class, they’re now Facebooking each other and wanting to come back and visit,” he said.

Roblesreynoso said Chapman and another airman are developing an English club on Yokota for JASDF airmen –- which will largely rely on American volunteers. He said that when he’d mentioned the possibility of such a club to his Japanese counterparts, known as warrant officers in the JASDF, they told him, “We want that.”

He’s also encouraging JASDF members to join American intermural sports.

“We’re sharing the same base,” he said. “I’m looking at every opportunity to improve the bilateral [relationships].”

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Wyatt Olson is based in the Honolulu bureau, where he has reported on military and security issues in the Indo-Pacific since 2014. He was Stars and Stripes’ roving Pacific reporter from 2011-2013 while based in Tokyo. He was a freelance writer and journalism teacher in China from 2006-2009.
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