PHILIPPINE SEA (Nov. 13, 2016) – “There were no knee-knockers on the upper decks and the passageways were so wide!” exclaimed Lt. Alicia Elliott, from Ambler, Pennsylvania. “Those were two of the first things I noticed about Izumo when we arrived.”
Elliott, and fellow operations officer on the Destroyer Squadron (DESRON) 15 staff, Lt. Peter Besser, from Chicago, Ill., embarked the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force (JMSDF) flagship, JS Izumo (DDH 183), for 11 days in support of the bilateral exercise Keen Sword 17 (KS17).
Each officer was hand-selected by Capt. Jeff Bennett, commodore of Destroyer Squadron (DESRON) 15, to take on such the opportunity to embark the foreign ship.
“We went to Izumo as liaison officers representing DESRON 15 in support of KS17, and to assist Commander, Escort Flotilla One (CCF1), in commanding surface forces,” explained Besser. “We stood a 24/7 watch in the Force Information Center, the CCF1 command cell on Izumo. Our watches monitored email and chat between DESRON and all the surface units, and helped with the language barrier.”
The benefit of having officers embark the Japanese ship was crucial for the exercise, a biannual event directed by the commander of U.S. Forces Japan and the Chief of Staff of the Japan Joint Staff.
“When it comes to international exercises between navies, especially navies who speak different languages, many things can get lost in translation… literally,” said Elliott. “By being there in person, you can better understand the intent or meaning of things going on and questions being asked by both the U.S. and Japanese. At times, the exercise prevented us from communicating with other ships electronically, but the Japanese still had U.S. representatives there to explain things which led to a better decision-making process. I could tell we were a vital asset; they relied on us a lot.”
The experience aboard Izumo, for both Besser and Elliott, extended far beyond the operational commitments of KS17.
Paired up with a JMSDF sponsor as she got acclimated to the ship, Elliott described the day to day life aboard as similar to daily life aboard Reagan, but noted some key differences.
“On the U.S. carrier, meal times vary and you can eat whenever you want. On Izumo, we ate as a wardroom at a set time every day, for every meal. It was nice, very much like a family, but the meal hours basically set the schedule for the rest of the day since you had to eat together.”
She also noted that the ship did use a 1-MC, but didn’t use bells or whistles to denote the time or different evolutions, and all meetings were scheduled around the set meal hours.
Both Besser and Elliot were impressed with the JMSDF officers’ and enlisted sailors’s dedication to mission and pride in their work.
“The Japanese chain of command is very formal, and when they make a plan, they stick to it. Their seamanship and ship driving skills were both very impressive; they are able to maneuver their ships quickly and effectively,” said Besser.
“Both the enlisted and officers were very respectful and very gracious hosts,” said Elliott. “Up and down the ranks, everyone wanted to make us feel like we belonged and were a part of the crew. All the junior sailors were very proud of their job and wanted to explain their watch station or position to me”
Overall, the experience aboard Izumo made a huge, positive impact on both Lieutenants.
“It was a phenomenal experience,” said Besser. “Both Alicia and I had a sense of purpose while we were there. It felt like we made a difference during such a complex exercise. Even something as small as sharing meals together strengthened the friendship and partnership between us and our closest ally in 7th Fleet. It was cool to be a part of their briefs, get a feel for their capabilities as a navy, and have an understanding on how they conduct business.”
“I have lived in Japan for almost two years now and am about to transfer back to the States,” said Elliott. “This was icing on the cake for me; it was a great way to wrap up my time in Japan and my time working with allies and partners in the region. I know the point of exercises like Keen Sword is to build on our existing partnerships and improve our capabilities, and I am grateful I got to see that first hand.”
KS17 is a biennial, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff-directed, U.S. Pacific Command- sponsored Field Training Exercise (FTX). KS17 is directed by the Commander of U.S. Forces Japan and Japan’s Chief of the Joint Staff. KS17 is designed to meet mutual defense objectives by increasing combat readiness and interoperability between Japan Self-Defense Forces (JSDF) and U.S. forces.
Keen Sword is designed to allow the United States and Japan to practice and evaluate the coordination procedures and interoperability elements required to effectively and mutually respond to the defense of Japan, or to a regional crisis or contingency situation in the region, while building bilateral confidences and working relationships. Exercises such as Keen Sword provide an indispensable field training environment for enhancing mutual understanding of each country’s tactics, communication protocols, procedures, and general interoperability.
DESRON 15 is embarked on board USS Ronald Reagan (CVN 76) in support of security and stability in the Indo-Asia-Pacific region.