Staff Sgt. Hikari Maruyama, Cpl. Runa Kurosawa and Capt. Sawaka Nakano are part of an elite force: Japan's Amphibious Rapid Deployment Brigade (ARDB), meant to lead assaults from the sea in a possible future war.

They are also three of about 40 women in their 2,400-person unit.

Living alongside a close-knit group of other female service members aboard the JS Osumi, a Maritime Self-Defense Force tank landing ship deployed for exercises in the East China Sea, they supported beach assault drills in November in Japan's vulnerable southwest island chain.