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SANTA RITA, Guam - Explosive ordnance disposal (EOD) technicians assigned to EOD Mobile Unit (EODMU) 5 and the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force (JMSDF) conducted IWOTO 2019, a mine countermeasures exercise (MINEX), June 10-22, on the island of Iwo To, Japan.
JSMDF's Mine Warfare Force (MWF) executes IWOTO, the largest live MINEX in the Pacific, every year at Iwo To, formerly known as Iwo Jima, but this is the first time a U.S. Navy EOD platoon has been invited to actively participate in the exercise. In the past, the U.S. Navy EOD Sailors only observed the exercise.
“IWOTO 2019 represents a significant development in the U.S. Navy's ability to train and interoperate with our JMSDF allies,” said Capt. Jim Hartman, U.S. Liaison Officer to the JMSDF stationed at the Ministry of Defense in Tokyo, Japan. “The JMSDF has been very good at mine countermeasure operations for many decades, and this is a critical capability to have in the region. The ability of the U.S. Navy to conduct mine countermeasures seamlessly alongside the JMSDF is of strategic importance.”
According to Hartman, this exercise was particularly noteworthy as an opportunity for our forces to train in the region, allowing the U.S. Navy to increase our proficiency and knowledge of local waters while maintaining a ready posture.
During the MINEX, Sailors assigned to EODMU 5 Platoon 501, worked alongside JMSDF EOD teams where they exchanged knowledge with one another about floating mine response (FMR) procedures on inert mine shapes and bottom mine procedures on inert bottom mines.
After conducting the knowledge exchange portion of the exercise, EODMU 5 Platoon 501 and six different JMSDF EOD teams executed a live FMR demonstration, a live bottom mine contact charge demonstration, and nine additional dives total for object recovery, environmental assessments, and post blast assessments around Iwo Jima for training purposes.
“This exercise was unique in that we, as the first U.S. Navy EOD Platoon to be invited, were able to show the JMSDF that wounds of the past are well on their way to being healed and we were able to participate in one of the largest Live Mine Warfare Exercises in the world alongside the Japanese EOD,” said Lt. Andrew Kuo, Platoon 501 commander assigned to EODMU 5. “Conducting live underwater demolition operations with both U.S. Navy and JMSDF divers improved upon an already strong level of interoperability between EOD forces and contributed to our efforts to build additional partnerships with other country's EOD forces."
IWOTO 2019 was more than just conducting mine countermeasure techniques; it was about continuing to build the relationship between the U.S. Navy and the JMSDF. One way they accomplished this mission was to invite EOMDU 5 Sailors to participate in a wreath laying ceremony to honor the fallen at Iwo Jima at sunrise June 15.
“Visiting Iwo Jima onboard a Japanese vessel and being asked to take part in their ceremony to honor the dead on that battleground was our honor and privilege,” said Kuo.
Towards the end of the exercise, JMSDF Sailors gave a tour of Iwo Jima, to include all the monuments, an old tunnel used as the medical center during the battle and a few gun emplacements, to U.S. Navy EOD Sailors.
EODMU 5 is assigned to Commander, Navy Expeditionary Forces Command Pacific, the primary expeditionary task force responsible for the planning and execution of coastal riverine operations, explosive ordnance disposal, diving engineering and construction, and underwater construction in the U.S. 7th Fleet area of operations.