KIRISHIMA TRAINING AREA, Kyushu, Japan  -- About 200 Marines and Sailors with the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit began the annual bilateral field training exercise Forest Light with Japanese Ground Self Defense Forces in mainland Japan, Dec. 7.

Charlie Company, 1st Battalion, 7th Marines, 31st MEU, along with attachments from Combat Logistics Battalion 31 and the Command Element have deployed to the southern area of mainland Japan for the exercise.

“The purpose of the exercise is to maintain interoperability and increase both nations’ readiness,” said Maj. James Reid, officer in charge of the exercise. “We expect to engage with our Japanese counterparts and conduct some good, tough, realistic training to better prepare ourselves and the Japanese Ground Self Defense Forces, thereby making us better and stronger allies.”

Reid continued that most of his Marines have been to Iraq, but very few from the battalion have had a chance to visit Japan, and that makes this training a a great chance to gain an intimate perspective on one of the U.S. allies and their customs and courtesies.

Exercise Forest Light is designed to enhance bilateral military cooperation and build relationships between the military forces of both nations through coordinated military maneuvers in a field environment.

“This is a unique chance for us to conduct bilateral training, so we are looking forward to conducting challenging events with the U.S. Marines,” said Maj. Hidetoshi Inoue, Public Affairs Officer, 8th Division, Japanese Ground Self Defense Force. “As part of our mission, we coordinate and work with U.S. forces, so it is important to train here at Forest Light to better understand each other.”

Training events are to include helicopter assault techniques, fast roping, forms of infantry maneuver, sniper actions, communication, planning, first aid, and weapons familiarization.

“We will do some good integrated training with the Japanese Defense Force and we will experience something new,” said Lance Cpl. David Beckum, machine gun team leader, Charlie Co., Battalion Landing Team 1/7, 31st MEU. “We had the chance to work with the Philippine Marines for a few days earlier on the deployment, but this exercise will be longer and will give us experience to take back home and teach the newer Marines.”

The Forest Light exercise comes at the end of the 31st MEU’s regular deployment to the Asia-Pacific region, in which the Marines and Sailors had the opportunity to visit the Philippines and provide disaster relief after Super Typhoon Megi hit Northern Luzon in October.

“We received a real warm welcome from the Japanese, who were all waiting for us when we came through the gate,” said Lance Cpl. John Drake, 81-mm mortar section forward observer, Weapons Company, BLT 1/7, 31st MEU. “Everyone was clapping for us and it is good to see that the Japanese commitment to this is huge – we will show the same effort back towards them.”

Marines are scheduled to visit local Japanese homes in the city of Ebino and participate in historical tours of the area to experience the unique culture of the mainly rural farming province.

The 31st MEU is simultaneously participating in exercise Keen Sword off the coast of Okinawa, designed to enhance interoperability between naval forces of the Japan and the U.S.