Defense Department officials celebrated the U.S.-Japanese alliance here yesterday as the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff presented the Legion of Merit to his Japanese counterpart during a full-honor arrival ceremony.
Marine Corps Gen. Joe Dunford presented Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Force Adm. Katsutoshi Kawano, Japan’s chief of staff, with the highest military award the United States presents to foreign military officials.
Kawano steps down as the highest-ranking member of the Japan Self-Defense Force next month. He was honored “for his far-reaching vision, dynamic leadership and uncommon ability to transcend cultural and operational barriers” to make the U.S.-Japanese alliance stronger.
Under Kawano’s watch, bilateral exercises between Japan and the U.S. military increased and the bonds between the two allies grew stronger. His work to make the Japan Self-Defense Force far more capable contributed directly to increased stability in the Far East.
At a short news conference after the ceremony, Kawano thanked Dunford for the award. “Gen. Dunford and I have been working together closely on the security environment and I think the U.S.-Japan alliance will develop further in the future as well,” the admiral said through a translator.
“The self-defense force and U.S. forces have been united together and we have been closely working together,” he continued. “I think that this Japan and U.S. alliance will develop and promote in the near future as well. So, I would like [Americans] to know that the strong bond between the two countries will be stable.”
Dunford said the award is America’s way of saying thanks to Kawano for what he has done to advance the bilateral relationship. “He and I have worked together since 2015,” he said.
The two leaders speak together often and Dunford noted that, particularly when there was an active missile program in North Korea, “we spoke probably every two or three days.”
The recognition is a reflection of Kawano’s leadership and the contributions he has made in the deterrence and warfighting capabilities of the two nations, “but more importantly, the friendship that he has demonstrated to the United States.”
Dunford said the Japanese admiral has many friends in the United States and is a trusted partner. “His vision for the Japanese self-defense forces has brought Japan and the United States even closer together, and more importantly, his calm and very confident leadership in the region, has helped us maintain a degree of stability during a very, very turbulent time,” he said.