Strengthening U.S.-Japan alliance through pilot training at Altus Air Force Base

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Amanda Lovelace
  • 97th Air Mobility Wing Public Affairs

On April 28, 1952, the San Francisco Peace Treaty went into effect, signifying the beginning of the United States-Japan alliance. Since then, the U.S. and Japan have worked to strengthen their allied relationship through combined international training and operations.

Known locally as “Mobility’s Hometown,” over 2,000 air mobility students train here annually, to include students from 16 different foreign nations. Training conducted at Altus ensures global air superiority for the nation and its allies.

Recently, the Japan Air Self-Defense Force became part of the Mobility’s Hometown community as 12 aircrew students began training on the KC-46 Pegasus, further building joint readiness between allies.

“In this unstable, international security environment, it is important for us to get together as allies with a strong, trustful relationship,” said JASDF Lt. Col. Tetsuji Kamiguchi, 405th Air Refueling Squadron commander. “This training is a big step for strengthening our alliance and interoperability by utilizing the same aircraft and working together to improve our operations.”

Over the course of three months, the JASDF students went through the same training that U.S. Airmen go through to be fully qualified to operate the KC-46.

The curriculum started with an academic phase where the students attended up to four classes daily. During the second phase, they focused on simulators and performed pre-briefs and debriefs. During the third phase, the students completed eight flights and a check ride with one of the 56th Air Refueling Squadron instructors to finalize their training.

The instructors taught six JASDF pilots and six JASDF boom operators here, who will return to their home unit in Japan, the 405th Air Refueling Squadron – an opportunity Kamiguchi said he and his squadron members were honored by.

“I'm really proud of being the first commander of the newly born Japanese KC-46 squadron, the 405th Air Refueling Squadron, founded in December last year,” Kamiguchi said. “My squadron members are also very proud of being chosen as one of the first aircrew for the KC-46, and they’re proud to be members of the KC-46 family. They are the future for KC-46s. I believe that we have a responsibility for establishing our base of operations and tactics from different perspectives, especially for mutual understanding among KC-46 squadrons and also as a tanker family.”

JASDF Chief Master Sgt. Teruyuki Mizokami, 405th Air Refueling Squadron senior boom-operator, also expressed gratitude and excitement to take his new found knowledge back to the 405th.

“I was honored to receive this opportunity,” Mizokami said. “The course was really important because after I complete my training, I have to teach all of my colleagues in Japan. I feel energized and refreshed now, and I know we will do our best.”

U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Amy James, 56th ARS instructor boom operator, said she learned a lot from the students during their time here. She also stated the importance of sharing knowledge with allied nations.

“This is my first time working with international students, so it's been eye opening for me,” James said. “I think it helps us become better instructors. Language barrier aside, it makes us work harder. This helps us to find new ways of explaining things. I’ve learned and grown as an instructor, and I’ve really enjoyed trying to figure out how to build these relationships with our international allies.”

According to Kamiguchi, the training definitely strengthened the alliance between the U.S. and Japan and is a gift to have for future relationships. Kamiguchi also said he really appreciates everyone on base for making himself and the other students feel welcomed and supported.

“Even though we have a language barrier, the instructors really did their best to listen to us and explain everything to us,” Kamiguchi said. “The training facilities are really nice, so we had a great environment to concentrate on the KC-46 training.”

Maj. Jonathan Benson, 56th ARS training flight commander, agreed with Kamiguchi’s sentiment, and said working with the students was a rewarding opportunity.

“They're great people, and every single one of these students have a lot of knowledge and experience,” Benson said. “It's been great getting to share our culture as well as learn from their culture throughout their time training here.”