Community members, Marines clean up for dragon boat race
HENOKO, OKINAWA, Japan — Approximately 60 community members and Marines gathered for an annual cleanup of the Matsuda-No-Hama Beach and senior citizen’s recreation field May 20 in Henoko.
Members of the Henoko Senior Citizen’s Association and Marines assigned to various units at Camp Schwab cleaned up the areas in preparation for the Henoko Dragon Boat Race taking place June 2.
“This cleanup of Matsuda-No-Hama Beach is to remove all trash or debris that washed up over the past year,” said Sam Epperson, a member of the Henoko Senior Citizen’s Association and retired Marine sergeant major. “After we finished cleaning the beach, the Marines offered to help us clear the senior citizen’s recreation field of weeds and brush.”
When told Marines would be helping with the cleanup for the dragon boat race, the association members were excited and appreciative, according to Epperson.
“Henoko is one big family. The other members of the group always enjoy the chance to work with Marines,” said Epperson. “Ever since my first time on Okinawa in 1965, the people of Henoko have always had a strong bond with the Marines of Camp Schwab.
“The community members always love to share their culture, and they really enjoy having the Marines out here taking part in the various festivities and events throughout the year.”
The relationship is continually growing and is important to the community members of Henoko, according to Kinjo Nobuyuki, president of the association.
“The local community has very close ties and often works hand-in-hand with service members assigned to Camp Schwab,” said Nobuyuki. “It is very important to us that we continue to work with the Marines as often as we can to strengthen this relationship.”
For Marines taking part in the event, the opportunity to volunteer showcases their beliefs of what good neighbors should do, according to Lance Cpl. Tyler R. Papalski, a rifleman with 1st Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment, currently assigned to 4th Marine Regiment, 3rd Marine Division, III Marine Expeditionary Force, under the unit deployment program.
“To leave a place cleaner than when you arrived is a core philosophy of being a Marine,” said Papalski. “I am only on Okinawa for six months with the UDP, but I have volunteered numerous times because I believe everyone should help those around them in any way possible.”
It is important not only for Marines, but all service members, to go out and volunteer in their surrounding communities wherever they serve, according to Papalski.
“With this cleanup held in preparation for the dragon boat race, it shows that we not only care about the environment on Okinawa, but their traditions as well,” said Papalski. “We are consistently told we are ambassadors of the U.S. during our time here on Okinawa. One of the biggest ways to show we are good ambassadors is to take the time out of our schedules and work with the community to help make Okinawa a cleaner and better place.”