Lt. Tomoaki Iishiba is something of a celebrity among the Japanese troops he’s working with here in Sendai.
A policeman’s son who grew up in Tokyo, he left his native country in 1993 and moved to the United States to pursue his dream of becoming a soldier.
He wrote a book about his experiences in Afghanistan as an infantryman in the 82nd Airborne Division. It speaks directly to the kind of guys he’s working with now as an I Corps intelligence liaison to Japan’s Northeastern Army at Yama Sakura.
Some of them come up to him "two or three times a day" and ask for his autograph, he said.
Iishiba said his book, "A Japanese Lieutenant from the 82nd Airborne," appeals to Japan’s young soldiers who, like him, feel stymied by its pacifist constitution.
In deploying to Afghanistan to fight his adopted nation’s enemies, he did what his former countrymen cannot.
Iishiba said the constitution after World War II, was right to "try to erase the aggressive stereotype of Japan," the intense militarism that brought the country to ruin.
"But now they got too soft. It’s a different world now," Iishiba said. "You’ve got to stand strong, but they’re not ready yet."
It’s not a view that’s shared by all in Japan, but there has been debate the last several years about whether the country needs to shed some of the limitations on its military forces in the interest of protecting Japan’s security and economic interests in the changing Pacific region.
Iishiba figured he would be defending Japan even if he left and joined the United States Army. He has since become a U.S. citizen, though he said he continues to take pride in Japan and sees himself as committed to the peace and prosperity of both countries.
His book told of his experiences in Afghanistan in 2003, working from a camp near the Pakistan border. It’s published in Japanese, but not in English — the idea came from an old friend who is in the publishing business, and suggested there’d be interest in his war stories.
He wrote a followup — more or less a manual for the M4 rifle.
Together they’ve sold about 10,000 copies.
"I’m not Tom Clancy," Iishiba said.
He’s also endorsed a line of knives and is credited as a technical adviser in the making of the video game Metal Gear Solid.
But his writing days might be done. Since he published the other two, he completed his ROTC requirements, became a citizen and was commissioned as an officer in 2004 and chose to go into intelligence.
He had been assigned to the 4th Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division, but was moved to the I Corps intelligence section after impressing people with his work with visiting Japanese troops training at Fort Lewis and Yakima.
He spent five years in the 82nd after graduating from the University of Northern Michigan. He had to wait until his citizenship came through to become an officer.
Now he and his wife, Maria, have a 10-month-old daughter, Aurelia, and live in DuPont.
But he likely won’t be continuing to train with the corps for its expected deployment to Iraq in 2009.
He’s going ahead in February as a volunteer member of a military training and adviser team to the Iraqi military.
"The country is at war, and we’re short of people," Iishiba said. "Serving the country is everyone’s obligation. … I’m glad to go."