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JSDF, Marines perfect command control during Yama Sakura

14 Dec 2012 | 1st Lt. Jeremy A. Croft Marine Corps Installations Pacific

Marines and sailors with the 3rd Marine Expeditionary Brigade partnered with U.S. Army soldiers and members of the Japan Self-Defense Force Dec. 7-14 to conduct exercise Yama Sakura 63.

Led by U.S. Army Forces Pacific, Yama Sakura is an annual command post exercise designed to strengthen military operations and ties between U.S. forces and the JSDF and exercise mutual capabilities for the defense of Japan.

This year’s iteration of Yama Sakura was significant because it was the first time 3rd MEB, a part of III Marine Expeditionary Force, has participated in the exercise since the unit’s activation last December.

“At the 3rd MEB level, we’re showing that we can integrate seamlessly with our Japanese allies to accomplish mission objectives,” said Col. John A. Ostrowski, chief of staff for 3rd MEB. “At the strategic level, we’re demonstrating that we, the United States, are a reliable partner and a committed ally.”

The exercise provides a vital opportunity to increase the abilities of the Marines and sailors of 3rd MEB and to work together with their counterparts in the JSDF, according to Lt. Col. Rodney Legowski, the operations officer for 3rd MEB.

“It contributes greatly to our alliance,” said Legowski. “It’s a major exercise that is truly bilateral in nature and strengthens our relationships with the JSDF.”

In command post exercises such as Yama Sakura, service members practice staff coordination and military decision making by reacting to a computer-based scenario rather than using actual combat units. But even though the units controlled by 3rd MEB are notional, the concepts rehearsed are very real.

“To train at a MEB level with all live forces would be very expensive, time-consuming, and it would perhaps come at the expense of other training objectives throughout the year,” said Ostrowski. “So we set up response cells, which are groups of people in the simulation center that can initiate actions within the simulation according to the decisions we make and the guidance we give them from the staff.

“Essentially, it’s a way to simulate all that while still replicating the staff and decision-making processes and orders that we would be doing in real life,” said Ostrowski.

According to Legowski, this process closely approximates real-world combat reporting and increases training value.

“The response cells are replicating our subordinate elements,” said Legowski. “They are providing real-time updates on unit locations, current operations and anticipated future operations.”

Once the data reaches the combat operations center, it is projected on a screen that enables 3rd MEB Marines and sailors to make decisions and respond to events as if they were engaged in actual combat operations.

Gunnery Sgt. Timothy Judd, the senior watch chief for 3rd MEB, acknowledged that command post exercises increase a unit’s ability to operate as a fully-integrated Marine Air-Ground Task Force.

“We have to be able to fight the battle with not only that element that’s in the fight, but everybody else who’s in the MEB’s sphere of influence,” said Judd. “The MEB takes care of a threat or contingency by using their main subordinate commands, ensuring that information is coming up, and the answers are getting sent back down. That’s what a command post exercise is all about.”

This year’s iteration of Yama Sakura is the 31st since the Japan-based exercise series began in 1982. The weeklong exercise is the culmination of several months of planning and bilateral coordination between U.S. and Japanese forces.