By Staff Sgt. Fredrick Varney
133rd Mobile Public Affairs Detachment
Raking leaves on a wintry Saturday morning in January is probably not very high on the to-do list for most soldiers stationed abroad.
Nonetheless, several soldiers participating in the Yama Sakura 61 exercise at Camp Itami decided to trade in their free time and give back to the city of Osaka by assisting their Japanese counterparts in picking up trash and raking leaves around Osaka Castle Jan. 28.
Command Sgt. Maj. Mary L. Brown, battalion sergeant major with the Headquarters and Headquarters Battalion, U.S. Army Pacific, based at Fort Shafter, Hawaii, organized the joint effort to clean up Osaka Castle.
“Our mission here today is demonstrating a sense of goodwill, brotherhood, and appreciation for our Japanese counterparts and their great nation,” said Brown. “These cultural events allow us to strengthen our relationships with the Japanese people by showing our continued commitment here.”
Over the course of the past week, U.S. soldiers have had the unique opportunity to visit numerous Japanese historical landmarks such as the Todai-Ji Temple, Osaka Castle and the Golden Pavilion.
Brown said soldiers who volunteered for the Osaka Castle clean up understood this off-post event differed slightly because there was a mission at hand.
“I would like to thank each and every soldier that came out here today and showed their support for a great cause,” said Brown.
Working along side their Japanese counterparts, U.S. soldiers were able to clean up a significant amount of leaves and debris around Osaka Castle in a matter of a few hours.
“There was a dual mission accomplished here today at Osaka Castle,” said Pfc. Thomas Bolton, an intelligence analyst for the 205th Military Intelligence Battalion based at Fort Shafter, Hawaii. “One is that our soldiers managed to clean up the grounds of Osaka Castle. The second mission was showing support for the Japanese culture as a whole”
Bolton said that Japan was an absolutely gorgeous landscape because of all the remarkable temples and castles spread throughout the country.
“The only time I had ever seen anything about Japan was from the monitor of a television screen. To be able to come here and experience the culture of Japan firsthand has been an amazing experience. Osaka Castle is one of the most impressive features I have ever seen in my lifetime,” he said.
Soldiers that volunteered for the Osaka clean up are currently participating in Yama Sakura 61, which is one of the foundations of the U.S. and Japanese defense cooperation.
Yama Sakura 61 is the largest bilateral exercise between the U.S. Army Pacific and the Japan Ground Self-Defense Force since the Great Tohoku Earthquake March 11, 2011.
The Yama Sakura exercise is designed to strengthen military operations and ties between the U.S. military and their Japanese counterparts at the operational level and exercise mutual capabilities in the defense of Japan.
Approximately 800 U.S. military personnel and over 3,500 Japan Ground Self-Defense Force are participating in YS61.