US Army fires new howitzers in Japan during Orient Shield exercise
OJOJIHARA MANEUVER AREA, Japan — The U.S. Army deployed its newest M777 howitzers to Japan in time for this month’s annual Orient Shield exercise with the Japan Ground Self-Defense Force.
The 155 mm guns — designed to be towed into battle by Stryker armored personnel carriers — have seen combat in Afghanistan but had not been fired in Japan until this week, Army officials said.
They were brought to the Far East by 450 soldiers from 5th Squadron, 1st Cavalry Regiment and other elements of the 1st Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division out of Fort Wainwright, Alaska.
The unit will train in Japan through Sept. 21 and then head to South Korea for more live-fire training near the Demilitarized Zone, said Lt. Col. Jim Hayes, 5-1 commander.
On Tuesday, three gun crews from 2nd Battalion, 8th Field Artillery Regiment joined three crews from the JGSDF’s 6th Division for gunnery practice at Ojojihara Maneuver Area in northeast Japan.
The Japanese were first to fire.
From a nearby hillside, the gunners could be seen scurrying about loading their howitzers. Some of the Japanese troops were camouflaged with intricately arranged leaves and branches sprouting from their uniforms.
Explosions filled the air, but the Japanese troops seemed oblivious to the rounds screaming through the skies above. In contrast, the Americans whooped and stomped around their gun positions in heavy armor and helmets as the 777s spat rounds at distant mountains.
The training will help coordination between U.S. and Japanese forces, said Maj. Hiroyuki Fukuda, commander of the 3rd Battalion, 6th Division Artillery. He wouldn’t comment about the impact of new defense guidelines that would allow Japanese forces to come to the aid of allies.
“All I can do is conduct the present training,” he said.
However, 1st Lt. Joshua Miller, a platoon leader with 2-8, said his men would “run as fast as we can to help” if Japan called on U.S. forces for assistance. “If we got in a real war with the Japanese as our allies, this will make us much more effective and faster.”
About 1,700 Japan Ground Self-Defense Force and U.S. soldiers are participating in Orient Shield.
As artillery fired, U.S. infantrymen piled out of their Strykers and fanned out along a small-arms range next to a mock town where troops train for urban combat. A dozen or so Americans fired rifles and machine guns at pop-up targets on one side of the range, while Japanese soldiers fired alongside them.
As the troops bounded down range, a Japanese soldier received a mock wound and was carried to the rear. Moments later, a Stryker rolled up and disgorged a team of U.S. and Japanese medics who evacuated the patient for treatment.
American medics are sharing skills that the Army developed while fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan, said medical platoon Staff Sgt. Charles Patterson, 27, of Monroe, La.
Japanese medics communicate with the Americans through interpreters, said Capt. Matthew Hicks, 30, of Birmingham, Ala. However the language barrier isn’t much of an issue, the physician assistant said.
“We are all the same anatomy, so medicine doesn’t change,” he said. “We might have a little bit different way we get to the same end, but the Japanese are very competent.”