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Indian and Japanese armies training at JBLM this month

Brig. Gen. Robert Ulses, top rear, and Brig. Guljeet Singh Jamwal of the Indian Army, next to Ulses, salute Wednesday during the opening ceremony for Yudh Abhyas, a training exercise with units from the Indian army at Joint Base Lewis-McChord.
Brig. Gen. Robert Ulses, top rear, and Brig. Guljeet Singh Jamwal of the Indian Army, next to Ulses, salute Wednesday during the opening ceremony for Yudh Abhyas, a training exercise with units from the Indian army at Joint Base Lewis-McChord. Staff photographer

Back home, Brig. Guljeet Singh Jamwal leads thousands of Indian army soldiers known for their expertise at fighting in the high altitudes of the Himalayan Mountains.

This month, he and his soldiers are working closer to sea level with a Joint Base Lewis-McChord Stryker battalion.

The Indian army exercise is one of two foreign military trainings the Army is holding in the state. It’s an unusual combination of exercises that underscores JBLM’s deepening ties with growing armies on the Pacific Rim, three years after it last sent large numbers of troops to Afghanistan.

It also is the first time JBLM has hosted troops from the Indian army for a joint training event.

“We have a lot to share,” said Jamwal, who’s looking forward to seeing how armies from the world’s largest and oldest democracies might collaborate in years ahead.

About 150 of Jamwal’s soldiers are spending the next two weeks training at JBLM in an annual exercise called Yudh Abhyas. This is the 11th time the American and Indian armies have participated in the exercise, but the first time they’ve linked up in Washington state.

On the other side of the Cascades, another 300 soldiers from the Japanese Ground Self Defense Force this week are beginning an annual exercise called Rising Thunder. They’re partnering with a JBLM Stryker brigade and spending several weeks doing drills at the Yakima Training Center.

Both exercises are examples of the partnerships the Army is trying to cultivate between its West Coast commands and their counterparts on the other side of the Pacific.

“It shows the advantage of JBLM as a power-projection platform, more importantly the opportunity of these countries to train here,” said Lt. Gen. Stephen Lanza, who, as I Corps commander, oversees troops preparing for Pacific operations at JBLM as well as in Alaska and Hawaii.

This month’s visiting militaries hail from a region whose countries are spending more and more money on defense.

China’s defense budget is swelling at a rate of 7 percent a year, while India is asking for an 11 percent increase. Japan last month proposed a 2.2 percent increase in military spending, according to Reuters.

In the U.S., military spending mostly is holding steady at about $600 billion a year. American officials are trying to stay plugged into the defense boom across the Pacific by stepping up their involvement in joint exercises and rotating troops through different countries so they’re familiar with each other if a crisis occurs.

“We must work together, shoulder to shoulder, to operate at the speed of trust,” said Brig. Gen. Rob Ulses, one of two deputy commanders at JBLM’s 7th Infantry Division.

Jamwal said this year’s Yudh Abhyas is expected to focus on peacekeeping operations, such as ones sponsored by the United Nations after a violent conflict. The Japanese exercise in Yakima, by contrast, likely will center on conventional warfare with artillery and attack helicopters.

Some of the JBLM soldiers partnering with Japanese and Indian troops this month likely will head to Asia in 2016 for a string of exercises called Pacific Pathways.

This month’s trainings with Japanese and Indian forces “prepares us for next year when we have to go to the Philippines, to Thailand and to Malaysia by building this partnership,” said Col. Tony Aguto, the other deputy commander of JBLM’s 7th Infantry Division.

On the ground, infantrymen from the three countries will spend time over the next few weeks taking classes, practicing movements and firing weapons. They also will make time for games and shared meals.

Already, some of them have been comparing war stories. About half of the 39 Indian officers visiting JBLM have served on deployments with United Nations peacekeeping-style missions.

Most of them serve in the 6th Battalion Kumaon Regiment, a highly decorated unit that has served in every Indian conflict. Its commander, Col. Rajeev Singh, pointed out that it once fought in Iraq when India was under British rule.

That made a connection with Lt. Col. Teddy Kleisner. He’s the commander of JBLM’s 1st Battalion, 23rd Infantry Regiment, a unit with more recent experience in Iraq. It fought there three times between 2003 and 2010.

“We’ve both been to Iraq, just a century apart,” Kleisner said.

Kleisner has about 250 Stryker soldiers who’ll be working closely with Singh’s troops this month. He said it’ll give them good experience for a time when JBLM forces may have to collaborate with a foreign ally.

“We have to be competent. We have to understand the nuances of working with an international partner, and what better partner than the Indian army?” he said.

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