Go West: ARET-J, JGSDF Reserve Component share best practices

By Sgt. John Carkeet IV | U.S. Army Japan | Jan. 21, 2016

Saturday, January 16, 2016 —
CAMP KENJUN, Japan – When the Army Reserve Engagement Team-Japan’s (ARET-J) director and senior enlisted adviser first set foot in Kumamoto prefecture on Japan’s southern island of Kyushu, they expected a cordial meet and greet session conducted primarily inside an conference room with their Japan Ground Self-Defense Force (JGSDF) Reserve Component counterparts. Reality surpassed these usual expectations with elaborate social, cultural and military training engagements culminating into a 24-hour journey that demonstrated a steadfast partnership between the two armies.

“Memorable, face-to-face visits are necessary to develop friendly bonds,” said JGSDF Maj. Hisashi Matsumoto, reserve component section leader for the JGSDF Western Army. “They also offer opportunities to exchange ideas on how to enhance the effectiveness of our respective Reserve forces, particularly in the event of a major natural disaster or similar contingency.” 

“It’s essential that my team and I gain a better understanding of our host nation by actively reaching out to our JGSDF partners,” said U.S. Army Col. Luis Pomales, director, ARET-J. “In the past, it took almost three years for ARET-J to actively engage with each of the five regional armies that make up the JGSDF … We aim to meet with every senior [JGSDF Reserve Component] leader before the end of 2016.” 

Minutes after shaking hands and boarding buses at the Kumamoto Airport Jan. 15, 2016, the ARET-J and JGSDF Western Army leaders disembarked on the pristine grounds of Kumamoto Castle, a 13-structure complex considered by many historians as one of the three premier castles of Japan. The group shared a traditional Japanese lunch inside the castle keep, embarked on a tour along the caste’s fortifications and sipped coffee at one of the many cafes that encircle the historic landmark. 

“I was thoroughly enjoyed the cultural immersion,” said Army Sgt. Maj. Bennie B. Nunnally, ARET-J’s senior noncommissioned officer adviser. “It was refreshing not to get inundated with briefings and instead experience firsthand the Western Army’s unique mindset molded by Kumamoto’s proud history and heritage.”

“We wanted to ensure that our guests understand and appreciate the close connection between the JGSDF Western Army and the local community, said Matsumoto. “The ranks of the Western Army consists of the very people who care for our 2,000 year-old culture. Their respect for our way of life helps the Western Army accomplish its missions and garner stronger support from our American partners.”

After an afternoon of casual tours, group photos and gift exchanges, the teams proceeded to Western Army’s headquarters in Camp Kenjun where they changed into their respective uniforms in preparation for a bilateral command briefing. Attended by Pomales, Nunnally and JGSDF Western Army service members of all ranks and specialties, the briefing introduced both sides to the structure, missions and capabilities of the JGSDF Reserve Component and the U.S. Army Reserve. 

“The [U.S.] Army Reserve and the JGSDF Reserve Component share many of the same qualities,” said Pomales, a native a San Juan, Puerto Rico. “Both sides stand on a firm foundation built by professionals who are proud to serve their country and love what they do.”

Pomales, Matsumoto and their respective teams also pointed out how each side can incorporate one another’s unique strengths to better train, equip and lead their warrior citizens.

“The [U.S. Army Reserve] has developed programs designed to create and maintain close partnerships with the private sector,” said Matsumoto. “The JGSDF continues to face challenges with recruiting and keeping highly skilled service members … incentive programs and private-public partnerships like those created by the [U.S. Army Reserve] might mitigate turnover and entice civilian employers to hire [JGSDF Reserve] service members.”

“The JGSDF consistently embeds its service members in U.S. military units and Department of Defense schools through coop and exchange programs,” said Nunnally, an Atlanta native. “One JGSDF sergeant major recently graduated from the U.S. Army’s Sergeants Major Academy in Ft. Bliss, [Texas] … These exchange programs have enhanced U.S.-Japan relations, [and] I believe the values we cherish as U.S. Army Soldiers would strengthen by embedding our Soldiers in JGSDF units and enrolling them in JGSDF-sponsored courses.”

After a refreshing evening dinner social and a good night’s rest at one of Kumamoto City’s premier hotels, the teams gathered at Kuroishibaru training grounds near Camp Kenjun to observe JGSDF active duty and Reserve Component service members from the Western Army’s 8th Artillery Regiment rapidly deploy a pair of 155 millimeter howitzers and set up field communication lines. 

“I’m impressed how Reserve JGSDF service members will train alongside their active duty comrades during their annual training events,” said Pomales. “This practice shares many qualities of the [U.S.] Army’s ‘Total Force Integration’ initiatives. 

“Yet the JGSDF Reserve and active duty elements conduct separate initial entry training courses,” added Nunnally. “In the U.S. Army, every Soldier—active duty, Reserve and National Guard—undergo the same nine-week basic training course …  Implementing a similar system may help the JGSDF achieve an even greater level of respect and camaraderie between its Reserve and active duty components.”

The two-day engagement officially came to a close with a round table discussion featuring a panel of junior enlisted JGSDF Reserve service members. The panel asked various questions about the Army Reserve and expressed their individual challenges to satisfy their JGSDF training requirements while simultaneously meeting their civilian employers’ expectations.

“The U.S. has laws and programs that support its Reserve service members,” said Pomales after listening to the panel’s concerns. “Despite these efforts, thousands of Reserve Soldiers must overcome many of the same obstacles you mentioned as they balance work, school, family and Army obligations … [ARET-J] stands ready to lend its support to have your concerns heard. Ultimately, it’s up to you to work with your leadership to resolve these issues so that you may continue to serve your country with pride and distinction.”

As Pomales and Nunnally bade farewell to their gracious hosts, both sides expressed their commitment to enhance their partnership through more frequent bilateral engagements.

“I hope the ARET-J continues to be proactive and visits my counterparts from the other [JGSDF] regional armies,” said Matsumoto. “In the near future, I would like to see all the regional armies unify their efforts to develop a stronger Reserve component thanks in part to the ideas, opportunities and observations shared by the ARET-J team.”

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