CAMP COURTNEY, OKINAWA, Japan --
The III Marine Expeditionary Force Commanding General, Lt. Gen. James W. Bierman, presented the U.S. Armed Forces Meritorious Service Medal to retired Col. Rikiya Kondo with the Japan Ground Self-Defense Force, Jan. 6, 2023.
The Meritorious Service Medal is a personal award given to service members who perform their duties in a distinguished, outstanding manner, which Kondo accomplished while serving as the commanding officer of Fuji Training Center, JGSDF, from September 2020 until June 2022.
“Under Colonel Kondo's leadership, hundreds of Marines and JGSDF soldiers have participated in realistic training, bilateral Professional Military Education, and shared cultural events," stated U.S. Marine Corps Col. Robert Bodisch, who served as the Combined Arms Training Center, Camp Fuji commanding officer from June 2020 to May 2022.
Shortly after being assigned to the Fuji Training Center, Kondo noticed that although the center was established 20 years earlier, the troops had never conducted training with the U.S. Marine Corps. Kondo took the initiative of contacting Marine leadership at CATC Camp Fuji and requested a meeting between the JGSDF and U.S. forces. By establishing this meeting, Kondo allowed personnel from CATC Camp Fuji and planners from III MEF to begin bilateral training integration for the first time in the 69 years of Camp Fuji’s existence.
It was brought to attention that the FTC’s purpose was very similar to the U.S. Army’s National Training Center, and their Opposition Force known as the Blackhorse Regiment. Approximately 20 JGSDF combat units located at various stations across Japan rotate through the FTC to fight the OPFOR Mechanized Battalion during an instrumented force-on-force range. Each soldier and combat vehicle used in the exercise is equipped with the Japanese BATRA II sensor system, a system that battle-tracks and detects wounding and kill shots during a realistic combat environment. The system also detects and tracks equipment destruction. These GPS-enabled sensor systems are monitored in real-time within the FTC’s advanced combat operations center, where a team of trainers and evaluators assess the combat effectiveness of the forces. After they assess the forces’ effectiveness, they create an after-action review to process positive tactical actions that need improvement.
“This is a very unique training capability that the Marine Corps does not have and after meeting with Col. Kondo once, we both proposed a force-on-force exercise between JGSDF and Marine forces,” Bodisch said.
After the initial meeting and gaining the interest of the Marine Corps leadership, Kondo began working on the first iteration of a force-on-force exercise between a Marine Corps infantry battalion and the JGSDF’s Opposition Force Battalion. The goal of the exercise was to fully integrate III MEF, Marine Corps Installations Pacific, and CATC Camp Fuji’s mission goals.
Bodisch spoke about Kondo’s planning and execution of the force-on-force exercise was unprecedented.
“Col. Kondo miraculously planned the first ever force-on-force training exercise; I say miraculously because this exercise was executed only nine months after it was conceived,” said Bodisch. “That is an amazingly short timeline to navigate the bureaucracy of a Japanese [and Marine Corps] military training system; he had to personally and professionally navigate the numerous bureaucratic and politic hurdles of making the exercise possible.”
Integration between the forces was officially approved and sanctioned in 2021, when Kondo spent five months working directly with III MEF and 4th Marine Regiment Planners at Camp Fuji, Fuji Training Center, and Camp Schwab, Okinawa. Kondo was the first FTC commanding officer to ever visit a Marine Corps base on the island of Okinawa, indicating the U.S.-Japan alliance was strengthening drastically.
"Col. Kondo projected a persona of confidence and determination in fulfilling all III MEF desired training objectives in the name of promoting the alliance and enhancing bilateral warfighting tactics, techniques, and procedures,” said Bodisch.
Once the planning phase was complete, Kondo announced that the force-on-force exercise would be called “SHINKA,” which translates to “infinitely improving.” A logo was created by Marines and included the USMC eagle, Mount Fuji, and Takeda Shingen, the most famous Japanese samurai of the Kanto Plain where Camp Fuji is located. These elements were used to show pieces of both the Marine Corps and Japanese forces’ significance in the exercise, as well as Kondo’s commitment to enhancing bilateral relationships and skillsets of both forces.
The exercise was slated for June 2021 with Marines from 2nd Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment, and JGSDF Opposition Force Battalion soldiers. Throughout the exercise, commanding generals from 3d Marine Division and MCIPAC, the Commandant of Fuji School, the Commandant of Intel School, and the former Chief of Staff of the JGSDF and current National Security Advisor to the Prime Minister, observed the training conducted from both forces. By having senior leadership present at the exercise, Kondo was able to showcase how Camp Fuji could be used successfully as a bilateral training area.
“Col. Kondo’s initial vision of bilateral force-on-force training has opened the future possibilities of expanding the FTC’s unique live, virtual, constructive training capabilities from the North Fuji Maneuver Area to the East Fuji Maneuver Area where U.S units typically train,” Bodisch stated. “Moreover, in early 2022, the Government of Japan approved an unprecedented offer to allocate approximately 3.3 million dollars of compatible JGSDF BATRA II kits specifically for U.S. units at CATC Camp Fuji via the 2022 Special Measures Agreement. This was the first ever Government of Japan funded supplement directed specifically towards CATC Camp Fuji for bilateral training modernization.”
During the after-action portion of SHINKA 21, U.S. Marine Corps Col. Matthew Tracy, former commanding officer of 4th Marine Regiment, 3d Marine Division, spoke about the effectiveness of the exercise. “This has been the most substantial and effective training that any of my battalions have received during my time in command in Japan,” said Tracy.
SHINKA 21 was so successful that it has become a reoccurring multi-domain force-on-force exercise with units that rotate under 3d Marine Division, establishing a training relationship between Marine Corps leadership and the JGSDF.
“His steady and tireless dedication to Japanese Soldiers and United States Marines have made enduring impacts to the alliance's lethality and combat readiness,” stated Bodisch. “He was able to introduce the most realistic and meaningful training for JGSDF and Marine Corps units inside Japan, something his, and my, predecessors were unable to do in the over 20-year existence of the JGSDF FTC. He was truly one of the most impactful JGSDF leaders over the past couple of years and it was my utmost privilege to work with such a warrior.”