'Operation Rising Thunder' pairs Japan, U.S. on battlefield

YAKIMA -- Five hundred Japanese Self Defense Forces are training side-by-side with 800 U.S. soldiers in an annual exercise called, “Operation Rising Thunder.”  The joint training is now in its 20th year.  Throughout the month of September, these two nations are training in everything from attack helicopters, urban warfare and sniper training. 

Col. Paul Mele, Commander of the 16th Combat Aviation wing watches from a high vantage point as two Apache Attack Helicopters, one from Japan and the other from the US train together by firing Hellfire Missiles at a mock target on the ground.

“It makes us quit familiar with each other`s procedures, cultures, techniques and all of those things which will make us together a more combat ready force to address any challenges we may want to in the Pacific region,” Col. Mele said.

For the Apache pilots like Capt. Ryan Garrow, this training is key to get everyone on the same page.

“It’s really interesting i mean you get to experience a whole new culture and its always fun to work with Apache pilots from different units, different nations,” Capt. Garrow said.

The US military is beginning a major shift as the war in Afghanistan winds down, now turning it’s focus to the Pacific region. A move brought on, in part, by threats from North Korea and the growing influence of China’s military might. So, getting soldiers on the same page is key to success.

“You have a lot of confidence in each other.. and confidence in their abilities out there. I just relied on him like it was flying with any other aircraft. I knew what he was going to do what he was trained to do and it would go well,” Capt. Garrow said.

The annual training exercise wraps up on September 24th.