Soldier uses language to build relationship with allied forces

Captain Seiichi Yoshizaki (center), 1st Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault), recently served as Japanese-English translator for the Japan Ground Self-Defense Force during their training rotation at the Joint Readiness Training Center, Fort Polk, La. Here he is giving a brief for coordination on the set up of the joint command post between JGSDF and Marine Air Naval Gunfire Liaison Company teams.

A Fort Campbell Soldier recently returned from the Joint Readiness Training Center, Fort Polk, Louisiana, where he used one of his native languages to build communication bridges between U.S. and international armed forces during a monthlong training exercise.

Captain Seiichi Yoshizaki, 1st Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault), who holds a language proficiency in Japanese and Mandarin Chinese, was invited to translate for the Japan Ground Self-Defense Force’s JRTC training rotation.

“I was born in China and raised in both Japan and China,” Yoshizaki said. “My mom is Chinese, and my dad is half Chinese, half Japanese. My father’s parents got married in 1945, which was very unique at the time because it was during World War II when a marriage between a Japanese and Chinese citizen was almost unheard of. I lived in Japan for a few years until I was 10 years before returning to China.”

Yoshizaki graduated in China with a degree in bioengineering. He came to the United States in 2001 where he attended Columbia University. He enlisted in the Army as a medic because he was inspired to defend the country after the events of Sept. 11. In 2009, Yoshizaki commissioned as an air defense officer.

“I went through a lot to get where I am,” he said. “I’m a unique example, I came from a different country. I commissioned as an officer, and now I’m trying to bridge the international cultures gap through language translation. I never would have believed where I came from to where I am now and how much has changed.”

Yoshizaki spent 31 days, Jan 5-Feb. 4, at JRTC working as a translator. He decided to bunk in one of the tents belonging to JGSDF so he could better build a relationship with the Japanese forces. Yoshizaki was responsible for assisting in translation and planning in movements and maneuvers.

“This was the first time ever where the JGSDF came to the United States to participate in this training,” Yoshizaki said. “It was the 1-39th Infantry Regiment, roughly around 200 people comprised of rangers, infantrymen, snipers, basically a small battalion element.”

The training rotation was a collective military exercise, totaling to 5,000 military personnel, including 4th Brigade Combat Team (Airborne), 25th Infantry Division, Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Anchorage, Alaska; 3rd Battalion, The Royal Canadian Regiment; U.S. Marines, and many other armed forces groups.

Yoshizaki was previously invited to act as a translator but was unable to because of deployment. He was excited to accept this opportunity in between deployment rotations.

“I speak both languages but had never gotten to use them in a military capacity,” Yoshizaki said. “I talk to people, I speak Chinese and Japanese with members of my Family, but this is a different level of translation. You have to understand both the jargons and terminologies specific to both countries and translate it to English. The JGSDF has its own unique language, and sometimes they use words that you think you know how it is translated but it’s different, so it was a unique challenge.”

Comparing it to building relationship bridges, Yoshizaki said the JRTC rotation was a chance to understand differences but also similarities between cultures and armies.

“They have very similar training, but they are culturally different,” Yoshizaki said. “They have different perspectives and sizes, this unit has never come to the United States and participate at JRTC, so it was a first of experiences for many. I was definitely honored to be a part of it.”

While the physical training of the mission was important, Yoshizaki it also was about building an alliance between the armies participating in the training.

“They are our allies, we have a working relationship between Japan and the U.S.,” Yoshizaki said. “This is one way to improve the relationship between the two countries even more, by participating in the same training exercise and by sharing how one or the other works. I think this is very important, and it also showed how a language skill can help in these instances.”

Yoshizaki said it also proved to him why maintaining his proficiency in Japanese, Chinese and English is important.

“It validated my own skills and proved to me that I can offer even more than what I already do with the Army. It was a very rewarding experience,” he said. “Being almost 17 1/2 years in the military, this was a good way to highlight my career.”

Language and diversity is important in the Army, Yoshizaki said, and foreign language proficiency is a powerful tool for Soldiers to possess.

“Hopefully I can do more translation work in the future,” Yoshizaki said. “I’m glad I kept up the proficiency in my language. A lot of people I know don’t always keep up with their additional language skills. The world and Army is becoming more globalized every day, and speaking additional language is not only a skill but a necessity for the future.”

Yoshizaki recommends everyone take the time to learn a new language and also explore other cultures.

“Understand the culture, beyond reading menus, but understand why other cultures behave different than yours,” he said. “Language barriers are a hard thing, and translators can help bridge the gap.”

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