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Japan’s top enlisted soldier visits Fort Hood

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Posted: Wednesday, September 21, 2011 12:00 pm

By Colleen Flaherty

Fort Hood Herald

Command Sgt. Maj. James P. Norman, senior noncommissioned officer of U.S. Army Japan and I Corps, and former 1st Brigade, 1st Cavalry Division command sergeant major, returned to post Thursday for a visit.

With him was Japan's top enlisted soldier.

Warrant Officer Ichiro Shimizu, who is the equivalent of the sergeant major of Japan's Ground Self-Defense Forces, said he was impressed with American noncommissioned officers' active role in planning and executing training after watching First Army Division West soldiers train Florida National Guardsmen in roadside bomb diffusion.

The training took place in a remote area of North Fort Hood. Shimizu called the exercise "very impressive."

"In the U.S. Army, the (noncommissioned officers) make a plan and conduct the training. In Japan, the officers make the plan," he said through an interpreter.

Norman, who assumed command in Japan just three weeks before the devastating March earthquake, said noncommissioned officer training had emerged as a focus for Japan's army in the event's aftermath.

Consequently, he said, Shimizu and a small group of other top Japanese noncommissioned officers focused on noncommissioned officer education and performance during their annual trip to the U.S.

"This trip is a direct result of that disaster," Norman said. "They identified some shortcomings and needs they have in their army, in providing assistance and defending their homeland."

The group visited Fort Jackson, S.C., to observe noncommissioned officer training at that post before heading to Fort Hood.

"The U.S. Army's procedures and ways to educate the (noncommissioned officers) should be brought to Japan," Shimizu said.

Command Sgt. Maj. Giovanni Fuentes, 1st Engineer Battalion, 395th Regiment, 479th Field Artillery Brigade, who oversaw the 1204th Aviation Regiment's training, said possibly having an impact on another country's - and culture's - army was humbling.

"As a nation, we're still very young in some people's eyes," Fuentes said of the U.S. "But showing a very seasoned nation with heritage and tradition (what we do), it might work. It could lead to progress ahead."

But Norman called the relationship between Japanese and U.S. forces long-standing and beneficial to both groups, and Shimizu a "peer mentor."

"(We do) staff and soldier training to make each country a little bit better," he said.

Norman said the Japanese army is primarily a skilled disaster relief mechanism that was well-postured to help the country recover from the earthquake and the tsunami that followed. U.S. service members worked alongside them, focusing on getting food and water to displaced people.

Both Norman and Shimizu said the U.S. military's support of Japan immediately following the earthquake has strengthened the relationship between their countries' armed forces.

Although U.S. troops "have worked themselves out of a job" in terms of relief efforts, Norman said, it will be some time before Japan returns to the way it was.

"The best we can hope for is a new normal."

Contact Colleen Flaherty at colleenf@kdhnews.com.

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