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SASEBO NAVAL BASE, Japan — Some 180 Japan Ground Self-Defense Force personnel, including 140 from Sasebo’s Western Army Infantry Regiment, will participate in the Iron Fist infiltration exercise with Marines from the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit at Camp Pendleton later this month.

The exercises will include amphibious assaults, infiltration by sea and from the air, and guiding naval gunfire, according to a spokesman from the ground staff office of the Japanese Ministry of Defense.

With more than 200 small islands in the proximity of Sasebo alone, it is no surprise that soldiers from the southern Japanese island of Kyushu were chosen to receive the training, said the spokesman, who would only give his name as Nozawa.

“Kyushu has many islands and since this is an exercise to protect an island, it’s natural for units in Kyushu to participate,” Nozawa said. “The southern front has become very important over the years and that is why units in Kyushu take turns participating. It just happened to be Sasebo’s turn this year.”

Nozawa declined to name any particular threats to Japan’s sovereignty but said the exercises were ultimately for the defense of Japan.

The exercises between the two allies have been held for 17 years, Nozawa said, but it is only the seventh infiltration exercise. Amphibious operations are “common training interests,” between the two allies, Marine Corps officials said.

“Bilateral amphibious training events between Marines and the JGSDF provide invaluable training for our Marines and sailors and builds on an existing friendship between the U.S. Marines and Japanese forces,” Col. Scott Campbell, commanding officer of the 15th MEU, said in a press release. “This provides us the opportunity to exchange knowledge and learn from each other, as well as establish personal and professional relationships.”

The exercise is scheduled to run Jan. 16 through Feb. 23, Nozawa said.

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Matthew M. Burke has been reporting from Okinawa for Stars and Stripes since 2014. The Massachusetts native and UMass Amherst alumnus previously covered Sasebo Naval Base and Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni, Japan, for the newspaper. His work has also appeared in the Boston Globe, Cape Cod Times and other publications.
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