By MC2 Michael Hendricks

U.S. Naval Forces Southern Command/U.S. 4th Fleet (USNAVSO/FOURTHFLT) is hosting the Japanese Maritime Self Defense Force (JMSDF) Training Squadron during a three-day port visit to Mayport as part of an around-the-world deployment designed to train newly-commissioned Japanese naval officers.

Three ships, including two training vessels, Hatsuki-class destroyers JDS Seto Yuki (TV 3518) and JDS Kashima (TV 3508), as well as Asagiri-class destroyer JS Asagiri (DD 151), will conduct 16 port visits in 13 different countries. The squadron is crewed by over 750 Japanese sailors and 190 newly-commissioned ensigns, and is commanded by Rear Adm. Hidetoshi Iwasaki. Since departing Tokyo May 20, the JMSDF Training Squadron has visited Pearl Harbor, San Diego, and Panama City, Panama prior to their arrival in Mayport.

"It is truly an honor for my staff and me to host you during your stay," said Rear Adm. George Ballance, commander, U.S. Naval Forces Southern Command/U.S. 4th Fleet. "Visits with other maritime nations afford us special opportunities to connect as partner nations and as friends, to foster relationships and learn about each other's culture."

While in Mayport, JMSDF and U.S. Sailors participated in friendly sports competitions, a formal reception aboard the JMSDF flagship and a free concert featuring the JMSDF Squadron Band and the Navy Band Southeast Wind Ensemble. 

Hospital Corpsman 3rd Class Michello Willard, who is assigned to San Antonio-class amphibious transport dock USS New York (LPD 21) and a participant in the sporting events recalled his time spent overseas in Japan.

"I was previously stationed in Okinawa," said Willard. "While I was there I appreciated their culture; they were very welcoming and courteous to us as Americans and did a lot to accommodate our way of life. Now that they are here I want to give them the same amazing experience that I got. I love the camaraderie that playing sports gives us, as it helps break down the language barrier. At the end of the day, everyone understands a smile." 

The U.S. and Japanese navies have participated in several different exercises together in the last year, the most recent being the biennial Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC 2016), which is currently ongoing in the Hawaiian Islands and at sea in the Hawaiian operating area. This is the 19th year Japan has participated in the RIMPAC exercises. 

U.S. Naval Forces Southern Command and U.S. 4th Fleet supports U.S. Southern Command's joint and combined military operations by employing maritime forces in cooperative maritime security operations in order to maintain access, enhance interoperability, and build enduring partnerships in order to enhance regional security and promote peace, stability, and prosperity in the Caribbean, Central and South American regions.