CAMP NAHA, Japan — Marines with Marine Aircraft Group 36 visited the Japan Ground Self-Defense Force’s Camp Naha Oct. 31 for a tour of the base and to continue fostering the strong bonds between Marines and JGSDF members.
During the tour, Marines received a briefing about the Battle of Okinawa, explored an underground cave used by the former Imperial Japanese Army during World War II, and visited several buildings, including a dining facility, barracks, and a morale, welfare and recreation services facility.
MAG-36 is with 1st Marine Aircraft Wing, III Marine Expeditionary Force. Camp Naha is home to the 15th Brigade, Western Army, JGSDF. The brigade is composed of an infantry regiment, reconnaissance company, artillery battalion and aviation squadron.
“It is extremely important for Marines to understand how our counterparts operate and live, so we can gain an understanding of the similarities and differences between our armed forces,” said Sgt. Maj. Miguel A. Rodriguez, the sergeant major of MAG-36. “I want Marines to realize the importance of establishing friendships with the people who we could be supporting in the future.”
Rodriguez met with Warrant Officer Akira Inoue, the 15th Brigade’s command sergeant major, at the beginning of the visit. They discussed the similarities and differences between leading Marines and JGSDF members, and being senior enlisted advisors in their respective services.
“It is good that we have this open communication,” said Inoue. “It is important to maintain a good relationship with our allies.”
The tour began with a terrain model presentation of the Battle of Okinawa. The presentation featured major engagements, troop movements, and casualties suffered on both sides.
“I was (surprised) on the detail of their terrain model that was built more than 30 years ago, but was still very well kept,” said Rodriguez. “Their narrative of the history of the battle gave me a visual picture of how the battle ensued and why there were so many civilian casualties.”
Next, each Marine received a flashlight as they moved through the pitch-black underground tunnels while learning about how the former Imperial Japanese Army fought and saved lives during the battle.
“It was interesting to see how well-preserved their tunnels are,” said Sgt. Jeremiah T. Isham, the operations noncommissioned officer in charge with MAG-36. “You can see how they consider their history sacred. It shows they care about the past.”
The visit served as a humbling experience for the Marines as they moved through the base seeing how their counterparts live, work and play, according to Rodriguez.
The JGSDF members live in barracks with up to five personnel in each room and communal bathrooms on each floor, according to Sgt. 1st Class Sho Furusada, a liaison noncommissioned officer with 15th Brigade and tour guide during the visit.
Other differences included the dining facility only being opened for 45 minutes per meal while serving a set menu with two to three main entrée options, and the members exercising on their own time with unit physical training as needed.
“Our cultures are different, what seems strange for us is normal for them,” said Isham. “It is eye-opening to see how other cultures live and work.”
With the success of this visit, the sergeants major of both services agreed that future exchanges would be ideal and visits like this will be a continuation of the strong relationship between the two services.
“Future exchanges will include visits to our maintenance and training facilities, sports competitions and a barbecue,” said Rodriguez. “I think it will go a long way in (continuing) close relations. We are looking to generate some positive success stories and long-lasting relationships.”