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Marines and Japanese soldiers train in beach assaults at Camp Pendleton

Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton Dvids/Released)

Marines riding in Assault Amphibious Vehicles stormed beaches at Camp Pendleton and established strategic positions to engage the enemy in direct fire.

Using deep ravines and canyons to conceal their movements, machine gun squads set up with views of a village. From those vantage points, they fired M-14s while another company of Marines piled out of the armored, amphibious vehicles. Under the cover of machine gun fire, the company of Marines moved into the village and cleared the buildings that overlooked the beach canyons.

The Marines from Fox Company, 2nd Battalion/1st Marines established a defense position while another wave of AAVs — these manned by soldiers from the Japanese Ground Self Defense Force’s Amphibious Rapid Deployment Brigade — came ashore at a beach just to the north.

The scene on Wednesday, Feb. 12, was part of a five-week joint training exercise between Marines from the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit, soldiers from the Japanese Ground Self Defense Force and sailors from Expeditionary Strike Group 3. The annual exercise, known as Iron Fist, included training in marksmanship, amphibious reconnaissance, fire and maneuver assaults, and amphibious landing operations. In all, about 1,200 Marines, sailors and Japanese soldiers participated.

Training will continue over the next two days, with Marines and soldiers simulating a secured beachhead. With that, more troops will come ashore from two amphibious ships — the USS Portland and the USS Pearl Harbor — and load off more military vehicles and gear needed to push the assault farther inland. The scenario simulates the taking of a fictional island, said Capt. Coleman Fuguea, an exercise planner for the 15th MEU.

Iron Fist, in its 15th year, has established a partnership between the Marines, sailors and the Japanese soldiers. The exercise originally introduced Japanese commanders to Marine Corps training fundamentals and each year has added more sophisticated training while growing in size and scope.

During a press conference Monday aboard the USS Pearl Harbor, Maj. Gen. Takanori Hirata, commanding general of the Amphibious Rapid Deployment Brigade, emphasized the importance of Iron Fist training and how it has helped prepare Japanese soldiers for increasing tensions in the Asia-Pacific region.

“The security environment surrounding Japan is becoming more severe and the balance of power in neighboring countries is changing and accelerating and is complicating the uncertainty,” Hirata said through a translator. “The importance of island defense is more and more key.”

Japan’s four main islands are surrounded by at least 4,000 small islands. A centuries-long dispute between Japan and China over the uninhabited islands — called the Senkaku by Japan and the Diaoyu by China — remains a source of concern. The tiny islands are in the East China Sea and are rich in oil and minerals.

In 2012, Japan nationalized the islands and the U.S. has continued to affirm that it recognizes the Japanese administration of the islands.

The U.S.-Japan Security Treaty signed by President Dwight Eisenhower on Jan. 19, 1960 allows for the stationing of tens of thousands of U.S. troops and the deployment of American warships in Japan. In exchange, the U.S. must protect Japan in the event of an enemy attack.

Camp Pendleton’s 17 1/2 miles of shoreline is ideal for amphibious assault training. The Navy’s San Clemente Island – 55 miles west of Orange County – is the military’s only ship-to-shore live-fire training range in the nation.

“In Japan there are beach training fields but they are very small,” Maj. Tomofumi Iwasaki, a spokesman for the Japanese Ground Self Defense Force, said, glancing across the vast beaches of Camp Pendleton. “That’s why we come here. We don’t have such wonderful training fields.”

Iwasaki explained that many of Japan’s beaches are surrounded by high mountains but training on the flatter beaches of Southern California provides basic skills that can be applied in Japan.

“Before we came here we also trained with Marines in the Philippines and in Hawaii,” he said. “The Marines, they have the real experience from being in war, they have a lot of know-how. We haven’t experienced war so Japanese soldiers here are learning many things.”

Maj. Yukiyashi Okuda, an infantryman, participated in Iron Fist 2019. He said he has seen growth in the bonds and respect between the Marines, sailors and Japanese soldiers.

He said Japanese soldiers are impressed by how well-organized the Marines are and the brotherhood they exhibit.

“When they are training, they are all as one,” Okuda said.


© 2020 The Orange County Register