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  • 2016
One team, one fight: 1/4, JGSDF take part in Iron Fist

By Cpl. William Perkins, 1st Marine Division

MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP PENDLETON, Calif. --

For years, Marines and the Japan Ground Self-Defense Force have come together to build upon their storied relationship as allies through Exercise Iron Fist. The exercise requires Marines at all levels to effectively work with a partnered nation to complete tasks and missions.

Marines and sailors assigned to 1st Battalion, 4th Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division, trained alongside JGSDF troops, as part of the live-fire portion of Exercise Iron Fist 2016, at Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center Twentynine Palms, California, Feb. 9-12, 2016.

“The Japanese worked on their platoon and company-level attacks, utilizing our tracks and our indirect assets, like 81 mm mortars,” said 1st Lt. Nicholas Boire, executive officer of Weapons Company, 1st Bn., 4th Marines. “They also used their own 81s and 120s to bust the rust and ensure they know how to do everything at the smaller unit level.” 

After conducting small-unit combat training, JGSDF personnel were transported across the open desert in assault amphibious vehicles to stage for follow-on assaults and urban training, using squad rushes and supporting fires.

The platoon and company attacks begin with indirect fire assets, such as mortar and artillery systems, engaging the target area to soften the objective for the ground forces. As one squad bounds forward, the other squad fires to ensure the enemy can’t engage the friendly forces while they are essentially defenseless during their movement. This is commonly referred to as rushing, where the attacking force can cover an open area with limited cover and concealment.

When they weren’t training alongside their Japanese counterparts, the Marines of Company B were fine tuning their squad and platoon-level tactics on an adjacent range.

The exercise presented the battalion with an exceptional chance to share tactics, techniques and procedures to further develop the combat abilities of allied troops, while also honing their own skills. According to Boire, he believes JGSDF benefits from the opportunity to use the live-fire ranges aboard the combat center, which are large enough to allow firing of virtually any conventional weapon.

“I think that the Japanese troops get a unique opportunity,” Boire said. “Coming to a different continent, with new terrain they’ve never been on before and working through a live-fire scenario is [unique].”

Twentynine Palms provides a vast, desert like terrain ideal for field operations and combat training. Marines and their Japanese counterparts were able to use their vehicles and high-powered weaponry to their full capability. 

“Twentynine Palms is awesome because you can bring anything out here and fire it,” Boire said.

The combined training efforts and lessons learned, along with the long-term rapport built during the exercise is a tribute to the benefit of this exercise. The realistic training Iron Fist provides to the troops on both sides continues to solidify our partnership with Japan as a worthy ally on the modern battlefield.

“It’s important that the Japanese and Marines work together,” said Staff Sgt. Alex Deykerhoff, platoon sergeant with Company B. “They’re our allies in the Pacific and it’s important to train and integrate with your allies whenever possible because you never know when you’re going to be sharing a fighting hole with the adjacent force.”

The knowledge and experience gained from the time spent with the Japanese soldiers will leave a lasting impression with the Marines.

“I hope that the Marines get a good partnership the Japanese soldiers,” Deykerhoff said. “[I also hope] the Marines take away the good combined-arms training ‘cause it’s always a good thing when Marines have the opportunity to get live rounds down range in training so they’re ready to use them in combat.”

In an ever-evolving world of combat, the Marines and their allies must be ready to protect the land they call home.

“As a warfighting organization, it’s always important that we train together,” said Deykerhoff. “As warriors and as Marines, we’re always learning and adapting our tactics to the next fight. It’s also important to adapt those tactics in tandem with our allies so we can both be on the same page if we are to fight together.”

The training associated with Iron Fist is relevant to the operations on the modern battlefield.

“[This training will be used] wherever it’s needed,” said Deykerhoff. “Marines specialize in combined-arms, the use of all our assets together on the objective to accomplish a common goal and I think that whenever it’s going to needed in the future, this training is going to benefit us ten-fold in the long run.”

The commitment from I Marine Expeditionary Force to conducting Exercise Iron Fist every year is one of the ways it strengthens internal capabilities and interoperability with Japan. Marines with the battalion are slated to attach to the 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit as part of the Ground Combat Element later this year.

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