Exchange program brings worlds, missions together
By Chrissy Cuttita, 325th Fighter Wing Public Affairs
/ Published October 18, 2006
TYNDALL AFB, Fla. -- There's no better way to know your allies than to don their uniform and embed yourself into the equivalent of your job in their country. That's what seems to work for the 325th Air Control Squadron here, who continues to strengthen their mission by utilizing the Air Force Military Personnel Exchange Program.
While a foreign officer became a member of Tyndall's team, an Airman works on a Japanese air base.
Japanese Air Self Defense Force Capt. Kazunobu Akutsu is halfway through his two-year assignment here as a simulator instructor at the 325th ACS. The exchange officer takes his work and the Air Force mission very seriously.
"Of course, I can't deny I'm homesick, but this is my duty and I can overcome it," he said. "It's good for the students to have me here with them (every work day). I have a stronger responsibility now."
While Captain Akutsu is here, Air Force Maj. Charles Grahn has been instructing weapons controller students at the 5th Technical School in Komaki, Japan, as part of the exchange program since October 2004. The major, a graduate of the 325th ACS air battle manager course, was accepted for the exchange program which led to the assignment in Japan.
"The exchange program helps the Air Force mission because it increases both of the countries' understanding and ability to work with each other," said Major Grahn, who volunteered for the professional challenge and the chance to learn the Japanese language. "The most rewarding part of this assignment for me professionally is seeing the JASDF going to bilateral and international exercises and using the skills I have taught."
According to Air Force International Affairs, this is the opportunity the exchange program is designed to offer. By embedding U.S. military personnel into foreign air forces, they help Airmen gain valuable understanding of how our international and coalition partners operate.
"Fifty years ago, who could have possibly imagined the incredibly tight military alliance that has formed between Japan and the U.S.," said Norm Herrin, 325th ACS instructional systems specialist who has sponsored numerous JASDF exchange officers over the past decade. "To me, that friendship is the biggest benefit for the young people in uniform on both sides of the globe."
The squadron here is not an unfamiliar place for the weapons controller born in Tokyo. Captain Akutsu spent a few weeks with the 325th ACS as an international student studying here in 2003. In fact, his squadron commander at his military station, Naha, was an instructor here in 1993 and recommended the captain take the exchange instructor position because of his knowledge in tactical interception.
Captain Akutsu's squadron in Japan has experience working with Americans. His squadron works side-by-side with Airmen at Kadena Air Base on a daily basis, and they have participated in exercises like Cope Thunder together.
While Major Grahn went to Kichijoji Language School, near Tokyo, to learn Japanese before starting his job in Japan, Captain Akutsu "hit the ground running" as soon as he arrived here.
The Japanese officer learned English in school and through work, but language is still a challenge for the officer with seven years of military experience. Luckily, ABMs and command and control center personnel have their own operating language called "brevity words."
Captain Akutsu can attest that the words ABM students here struggle to memorize are valuable during daily air operations.
Similar to American ABMs, JASDF weapons controllers are the "eyes" in the sky over their country.
He has handled the real-world task of scrambling to determine who the "dot" is on the radar screen, which is a task he simulates for ABM students here on their scopes.
At his home base, he's also had to coordinate information with control centers at Kadena AB to determine if aircraft over southwest Japan were friendly or foe.
"We use English (in Japan) because it is easy to convey in a short time," said Captain Akutsu.
ABM classes 06011 and 06015 have already recognized their Japanese ally as one of the best simulator instructors here.
Though from different countries, Captain Akutsu's students have similar professional backgrounds.
The captain entered the National Defense Academy in Japan and studied ground, maritime and air defense for four years. During his second year, he picked JASDF as his choice of national service. Upon completion of the six-month officer candidate school, he was assigned as a weapons controller.
"It's very important to manage air campaigns and also the entire flying organization including maintenance," said Captain Akutsu. "International work is difficult. I must accept the culture and it takes time to acclimate."
He has had to adjust to the more advanced and sophisticated avionics technology of the U.S. Air Force, and adapt to the local Panama City culture. However, his coworkers welcome him as "a brother in arms," and he enjoys the beaches like the rest of Tyndall's personnel. He has visited three other Air Force bases in his career, and enjoyed touring Washington D.C. Captain Akutsu also keeps in touch with six of his fellow Japanese officers (from various professional backgrounds) who are serving at other Air Force bases through the exchange program.
Both officers believe this program will benefit their military careers.
"My experience working with the Japanese military would be a great help if I were to enter into the new international affairs officer career field (the former FAO program) or if I got an assignment where I would be working with the JASDF or Japanese officials in the future," said Major Grahn.