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NEWS | Dec. 15, 2023

Total Army approach to Yama Sakura 85

By Sgt. Joshua Oh I Corps

A U.S.-Japan-Australian trilateral command post exercise, Yama Sakura 85 (YS 85), commenced as the largest iteration in its 42 years of history. As the rising sun emerges on the horizon, service members from each nation are fully engaged in a simulated scenario concentrated on the defense of Japan. Participants focus on identifying enemies, safeguarding assets and equipment on the ground, attending working groups, and consuming seemingly endless Japanese vending machine coffees to support this new trilateral event.

The human element of interoperability between nations is the key focus and challenge for every section in this exercise. Lt. Col. Patrick D. Blankenship, America’s First Corps assistant chief of staff of civil affairs (G9) and the director of civil affairs for the exercise, is all too familiar with this aspect, as this is not his first YS.

“The most important thing I’ve found when working with our allies and partners is that we both understand each other,” said Blankenship. “Our cultural bias in the Army is to go fast and in many cases, go alone; we have to deliberately slow ourselves down so we can go together and as a result, we’ll go further.”

The integration and interoperability of Army Reservists in Yama Sakura are just as important. Gaining work experience with the U.S. Army Reserve and National Guard is invaluable because all components of the U.S. Army operate together in real-world scenarios.

“The Total Army approach to how we do business, both in exercises and operations, is with all three components working together,” said Blankenship. “Whenever we can, especially in civil affairs, we try to incorporate a multicomponent business model for execution with a plan that leverages each component during the exercise.”

Blankenship hopes everyone in his section of the exercise leaves with these valuable experiences by providing them with realistic training. He states he wants to build his subordinates' sense of confidence by having them overcome difficult experiences and come out on the winning side.

“I try to give everyone realistic training by throwing them right into the driver’s seat,” said Blankenship. “There’s no better way to learn than to take the lead on something or having to brief a senior.”

U.S. Army Reservist Capt. Bryan Thompson, a judge advocate with the 364th Civil Affairs Brigade, shares his account of Blankenship’s trial-by-fire method. The Japan Ground Self-Defense Force’s Ground Component Command headquarters is the proving ground for his experience.

“I remember being told that I was going to be in the non-kinetic working group and I haven’t had the chance to step up to brief in that capacity yet, but being there to represent civil affairs has been really important to me,” said Thompson. “I’m here trying to learn all the elements that CA is responsible for as quickly as I can, but seeing all the pieces come together has been a tremendous learning opportunity that I'm absorbing, and I really enjoy it.”
Blankenship recommends the incorporation of Army National Guardsmen in next year’s YS. He states that in order for his section to perform at an even higher level, additional personnel from the ANG is necessary to increase the capabilities of the CA section.

“Next year, I would incorporate National Guard capabilities to represent the maneuver enhancement brigades,” said Blankenship. “That would introduce a whole new level of realism and interoperability to this exercise.”

Blankenship states that he is very proud to be here with America’s First Corps and the ability to work with the allies and partners.

“When we do have to fight, we’re going to fight shoulder-to-shoulder with our allies and partners,” said Blankenship. “It’s important that we continue to build this friendship and trust, which will be the main product of this exercise so that we can rely upon it if we need to face our final test and fight together.”