Each fall, the U.S. Naval Academy and the Japanese National Defense Academy participate in a semester student exchange. Each year American midshipmen and Japanese cadets are provided the opportunity to travel abroad and become immersed in foreign language and culture while making professional contacts among their peers and strengthening the relationship between the U.S. and Japan.
This year the Naval Academy sent MIDN 1/C Thomas Ernst and Christina Hardie, and MIDN 2/C Carl Trampenau and Steven Zakravsky to Yokosuka to study at the JNDA. Joining them were three cadets from the U.S. Air Force Academy and one cadet from the U.S. Military Academy as well as exchange officers from France and Australia.
|MIDN 1/C Thomas Ernst and Christina Hardie practice kendo at the Japan National|
A day at JNDA began with a morning formation and calisthenics at 0600. Following cleaning stations at 0610 and breakfast at 0630, the cadets would gather for morning colors at 0800 and subsequently march to their morning classes. The cadets participated in a formal lunch at 1205 followed by the third formation of the day at 1300 to march to afternoon studies.
Cadets at JNDA are all expected to participate in club sports and activities from 1600 to 1800. Dinner for the cadets began at 1815 and a mandatory study period is enforced between 1930 and 2205. The final formation of the day took place at 2215 before lights out at 2230 and the process would be repeated the next day.
But not all their time was devoted to military duties. The midshipmen had plenty of opportunities to get to know the country and its’ people.
Early in the trip, the midshipmen and the other exchange cadets travelled to Yamanashi Prefecture to climb the famous Mt. Fuji. The summit was so cold that it reminded MIDN Ernst of the 2013 Army-Navy football game.
The exchange students began their climb around 2130 and reached the summit just prior to daybreak. After viewing the sunrise from the highest point in the country, the group spent the rest of the day returning to the foot of the mountain and back to to JNDA.
The International Programs Office at JNDA also arranged for sightseeing outings in Tokyo and nearby Kamakura. Guided by Major Furukawa, the International Programs liaison officer, the midshipmen received extensive tours that broadened their understanding of Japanese history and culture.
Major Furukawa's office also organized sponsor family arrangements with local Japanese officers. The Japanese cadets did much to acquaint the midshipmen with their country.
“For me, some of the best moments were just going out with the Japanese cadets on the weekends,” said Trampenau. “Those personal groups of friends that took us in really made us feel welcome.”
The midshipmen also participated in the JNDA swim meet and water polo tournament representing their respective battalions. In the end, it was MIDN Trampenau and 4th Battalion who were victorious, but the day was great fun for everyone and was a perfect opportunity for bonding between the Midshipmen and cadets.
“I thought it was great how the corps of cadets got together and competed in a day of aquatic events,” said Zakravsky. “Cheering people on in the water polo match and swim competition was a unique experience. This event was an interesting way to build camaraderie and have a good time.”
The crowning event of the semester abroad was the midshipmen’s trip to the island of Iwo Jima. Military training receives a major focus at the JNDA. Part of this program of military indoctrination is a trip for all 3rd-year cadets to Iwo Jima.
The midshipmen and the other exchange students were lucky enough to join their friends on their educational excursion.
“I thought it was really cool visiting Iwo Jima with the Japanese students,” said Hardie. “It was nice to see how far our countries have come since the war and be able to pay respects to those who fought and died there alongside our Japanese counterparts.”
Upon returning from Iwo Jima the semester came to a conclusion. Their four months spent abroad proved a positive learning experience for the midshipmen and deepened the connection between already staunch allies.