MISAWA AIR BASE, Japan --
A bilateral exchange program brought U.S. Air Force and Japan Air Self-Defense Force maintainers together here for two weeks, allowing them to spend time together both at work and home, Sept. 26 through Oct. 9.
The program paired 11 JASDF Airmen from Misawa's 8th Air Wing with 35th Maintenance Group Airmen from diverse job specialties.
"The bilateral exchange program is a 5th Air Force initiative established to bolster cultural and professional awareness between the U.S. Air Force and the JASDF," said Senior Master Sgt. Geoff Robertson, 35th Maintenance Squadron munitions systems superintendent.
Staff Sgt. Matthew Harris, 35 Aircraft Maintenance Squadron avionics craftsman, was one Airman who spent time working alongside JASDF maintainers.
"We taught them the process for troubleshooting issues on the aircraft," Harris said. "Part of our goal is also to help them get used to working in an all English environment."
The push for increasing the English proficiency of the JASDF maintainers is partly a result of the Government of Japan's procurement of the F-35 Lightning II. Currently, the F-35 is scheduled to deploy to Misawa during the Japanese government's fiscal year 2017, making Misawa home to the first F-35s in Japan.
"The technical data, schematics, operating instructions and replacement parts of the F-35 are all slated to be in English," explained Senior Master Sgt. Geoff Robertson, 35th Maintenance Squadron munitions systems superintendent. "JASDF reaps huge rewards by sending their Airmen to Misawa and having them work in a completely English environment."
On the first day of the exchange, the JASDF members were invited to attend Misawa's 2015 Air Force Ball to give them insight into Air Force culture.
"The next day we had a traditional icebreaker with the JASDF Airmen and their American sponsors and families," Robertson said.
Following that, the JASDF Airmen worked on the flightline with crew chiefs and avionics members from the 35 AMXS, as well as armament and phase flight Airmen from the 35 MXS. While out in the field, the Airmen generated F-16 Fighting Falcon aircraft on the flightline, troubleshot issues, and gained a better understanding of the flow of work between shops.
"The JASDF Airmen worked side-by-side with their sponsors to gain team-building experience," said Robertson.
Following the maintenance exchange, the JASDF Airmen attended a Professional Development Center NCO professional enhancement seminar where they received insight on leadership, management techniques and how to motivate their Airmen.
Having been part of these types of exchanges in the past, Robertson said he was wholly impressed with the English abilities of the JASDF Airmen that visited Misawa.
"Talking to the JASDF Airmen, I believe they all had a great time and enjoyed learning the U.S. Air Force way of life and work," Robertson said. "Both 5th Air Force and JASDF understand the importance of this program and how it strengthens the bonds of both militaries."
The bilateral exchanges have been occurring for more than half a decade and are held at Yokota, Kadena, and Misawa Air Bases in Japan.
"We are in the planning stages for multiple bilateral exchanges in 2016," Robertson said. "We're hoping to send Misawa Airmen to a Northern Japan base and bring JASDF Airmen to Misawa in early spring."
Overall, the program is about continuing to build upon one of the strongest bilateral relationships in the country.
"I was fortunate enough to attend an exchange a few years back," Robertson said. "I still keep in touch with some of the JASDF Airmen I met there and I'm positive the 11 JASDF Airmen who visited Misawa will keep in touch with their American sponsors too."