U.S. Marines, Japan
GSD Force Seize and Defend Islands
by U.S. Marine Corps Capt. Nicholas Royer
With MV-22 Ospreys and CH-47 aircraft operating overhead, U.S.
Marines and Japanese soldiers manned machine guns, managed
interlinked sensor screens, and provided targeting information for
long-range fires assets in preparation to defend against an
amphibious assault and enable a fast-hitting counterattack into
A U.S. Marine Corps MV-22 Osprey with Medium Tiltrotor Squadron 265, 1st Marine Air Wing conducts confined area landings during exercise Forest Light Eastern Army in mainland Japan, on Dec. 13, 2020. Forest Light is an annual bilateral training exercise that strengthens the interoperability and readiness of the U.S. Marine Corps and Japan Ground Self-Defense Force to deter aggression and defeat any threat. This iteration is focused on seizing and defending key maritime terrain as an integrated force in support of naval operations in the defense of Japan. (U.S. Marine Corps Photo by Staff Sgt. Albert J. Carls)
The soaring mountains, chilling snow, and thick mud of northwest
Niigata Prefecture played host to countless iterations on these
scenes from during December 2020 as part of exercise Forest Light
Eastern Army, the latest in the long-running bilateral exercise.
Communications, maneuvering units, fires, and complex effects across
the spectrum of military operations were on display across two
training areas simulating islands as the integrated forces exercised
tactics that will support expeditionary advanced base operations.
These widely distributed, but connected, operations became a
matter of muscle memory for the more than 1,000 Japan Ground
Self-Defense Force and U.S. Marines who embraced the challenging
terrain and weather.
During this iteration of exercise Forest
Light, Marines with 3d Battalion, 8th Marines, currently deployed
under 4th Marine Regiment, 3d Marine Division, joined their Japanese
counterparts from the 30th Infantry Regiment, 12th Brigade.
“The command and control, the logistical challenge involved … it was
intense,” described Maj. Joshua White, operations officer for 3/8.
“Our logistics Marines did incredible work ensuring a
self-supporting capability and distributed command and control, and
I can attest to the relentless drive and skill of our entire
combined U.S.-Japan operations team.”
White and a small, flexible team of his operations counterparts
from across the battalion and the JGSDF’s 30th Infantry Regiment
controlled the exercise forces from a variety of distributed
U.S. Marines with 3d Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment scans for enemies during exercise Forest Light Eastern Army in mainland Japan on Dec. 16, 2020. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Scott Aubuchon)
“It’s not about the location; it’s not about the conditions,”
said White. “It’s about the people being able to work with their
systems and make the connection from finding and fixing, to firing
on any target, while we’re on the move all the while.”
traditional tent complex, impromptu use of existing infrastructure,
and mobile command post systems mounted in Joint Light Tactical
Vehicles and carried in on Marines’ backs were all approaches
exercised by 3/8 and their JGSDF partners, allowing a fast, smooth,
and distributed control of forces.
With JGSDF snipers
relaying information, U.S. Marines and 30th Infantry Regiment troops
storming landing zones from Japanese CH-47s and U.S. MV-22 Ospreys,
and an integrated effort across all domains, Forest Light was “a
significant step forward in our partnership and becoming stronger
together,” said Lt. Col. Neil Berry, commanding officer of 3/8.
As an integrated force, the troops relentlessly drilled together
on the tactics, techniques, and procedures required to seize and
defend key maritime terrain ... from the individual marksmanship,
unmanned aerial systems operations, and intelligence collections to
planning and coordination of airborne assaults and distributed
maritime defensive operations.
U.S. Marines with 3d Battalion, 8th Marines and Japan Ground Self-Defense Force infantrymen from the 30th Infantry Regiment set out for patrol training as part of exercise Forest Light. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Capt. Nicholas Royer)
“Through this exercise, we
have learned many fruitful lessons and deepened mutual
understanding,” said Col. Yuichiro Endo, commander of the JGSDF’s
30th Infantry Regiment.
Lt. Col. Berry echoed this
assessment, stating directly that the exercise was about developing
the U.S.-Japan Alliance’s “innovation, capabilities and lethality,
leaving no doubt about our readiness and willingness to operate in
the current environment.”
shoulder-to-shoulder against any challenge,” Berry noted. “Whether
it comes in the form of a humanitarian crisis, aggression against
the Japan-U.S. Alliance, or COVID-19, we are integrated, prepared,
and ready to defend our nations’ greatest treasures - our people.”
The enduring image of Japanese and U.S. forces manning the same
defensive positions, keeping watch on the same sights and systems in
a mobile command post, and sharing moments of cross-cultural
understanding permeated Forest Light, from command centers down to
the troops on the ground.
“It is always a great opportunity
to exchange knowledge and train with our allies,” noted Sgt. 1st
Class Noriaki Araake of the 30th Infantry Regiment. “We are prepared
for any conflict.”
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