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U.S. Marine Corps Col. Clay Tipton, commanding officer, 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit, shakes hands with Col. Yoskiyuki Goto, commanding officer, Western Army Infantry Regiment, Japan Ground Self-Defense Force, after recognizing select Marines and JGSDF soldiers for their outstanding performance during Exercise Iron Fist 2016, at the exercise’s closing ceremony at Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, California, March 1, 2016. Exercise Iron Fist is an annual exercise conducted between the USMC and JGSDF, designed to improve their ability to conduct amphibious operations. The ceremony brought together both militaries in celebration and formally concluded the 11th iteration of Exercise Iron Fist.

Photo by Lance Cpl. Devan Gowans

Exercise Iron Fist 2016: Two cultures, one warrior spirit

2 Mar 2016 | Cpl. April Price I Marine Expeditionary Force

Forged in the wake of World War II, the U.S.-Japan security alliance has served as one of the Asia-Pacific Region's most important military relationships and as an anchor of U.S. engagement in the Pacific. Revised in 1960, the Treaty of Mutual Cooperation and Security grants the United States the rights to military bases in the Japanese archipelago in exchange for a U.S. pledge to defend Japan in the event of an attack.

“As security treaty allies, it is important for U.S. Marines and sailors to have working relationships with our Japanese military counterparts to continue honing our amphibious operations core competencies,” said Col. Clay C. Tipton, commanding officer, 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit. “Credible, ready maritime forces help to preserve peace and prevent conflict.”

Exercise Iron Fist 2016 started Jan. 22, and concluded with a closing ceremony March 1, 2016. Throughout the last five weeks, the Marines of 11th MEU worked alongside the soldiers of the Western Army Infantry Regiment, Japan Ground Self-Defense Force, to complete an aggressive training schedule. From Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton to Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center Twentynine Palms, and from San Clemente to the USS Somerset (LPD 25), the Marines, sailors and soldiers trained across the elements of the Marine Air Ground Task Force and successfully conducted combined amphibious operations. 

“Five weeks is a long time to sustain an exercise of this magnitude,” said Brig. Gen David Coffman, deputy commanding general, I Marine Expeditionary Force. “But all of [the participants’] hard work and dedication has, no doubt, increased the war-fighting capabilities of the 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit and the Western Army Infantry Regiment.”

Iron Fist is the largest, bilateral amphibious training exercise conducted by I Marine Expeditionary Force and is designed to improve U.S. Marine Corps and JGSDF’s ability to plan, communicate and conduct combined amphibious operations at the platoon, company and battalion levels.

The training focused on advanced marksmanship, amphibious reconnaissance, fire and maneuver assaults, staff planning, logistical support and medical knowledge sharing, fire support operations, including mortars, artillery, and close-air support and amphibious landing operations. 

“It is important to know who is on your left and on your right when in fight. If you’ve trained with a unit and know what they are made of – it can embolden your forces,” said Coffman. “Having camaraderie and respect for one another is fundamental for success on the battlefield; bilateral training and working side-by-side is extremely important to building this cohesion.”

The growing camaraderie and teamwork over the last 11 iterations of Exercise Iron Fist, reflects in the increasing combined operational capabilities between the Japanese and U.S. forces. 

“Exercises like Iron Fist and last year’s Dawn Blitz provide key opportunities to further enhance the Japan Self-Defense Force and U.S. Marine Corps’ capability and proficiency to respond to crises with a combined effort, said Coffman. “Make no mistake, the U.S. and Japan alliance is strong here in Southern California today. May our countries continue to nurture this relationship over the coming years, learning from each other and sharing in a common commitment to maintaining stability in the Asia-Pacific region.”

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