Community, service members compete in Henoko
Henoko, Okinawa, Japan -- Working as a team and competing against others can build camaraderie and create fond memories.
Using the power of teamwork and friendly competition to build closer relationships between American and Japanese citizens, seven teams of Marines rowed to the finish line during the annual Henoko dragon boat races at Matsuda-No-Hama Beach June 2.
While citizens of Henoko competed in a separate division with 10 teams, Marines competed against more than 20 teams comprised of members of the Okinawa community and the Japan Ground Self-Defense Force in the guest race division.
“I look forward to coming to these races every year,” said Yamato Ogawa, a Henoko resident. “I always enjoy watching everyone competing and seeing everyone sharing laughter and memories.”
The Marines competing hailed from various units with 3rd Marine Division, III Marine Expeditionary Force, stationed at Camp Schwab.
“As we approach the end of our tour on Okinawa, we couldn’t have asked for a better way to leave,” said Lt. Col. Christopher P. O’Connor, the commanding officer of 1st Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment, 3rd Marine Division, III MEF, currently deployed to Okinawa as part of the unit deployment program. “This was a great event, and I’m happy we had the opportunity to compete in it. Throughout our time here, we have seen how strong the relationship is between the Marines and the Henoko community members.”
Prior to the execution of the boat races, Marines from Camp Schwab and members of the Henoko Senior Citizen’s Association joined together to clean up the beach, according to Fumio Iha, the Camp Schwab community relations specialist.
“The Henoko community takes great pride in the dragon boat races every year,” said Iha. “We wanted the area where the races were going to take place to look nice. It was a great opportunity for us to work together for the community.”
The dragon boat race is a revered tradition on Okinawa, and was once limited to Henoko community members. Since 1973, service members have been invited to participate each year making the event even more inclusive, according to Iha.
“For a lot of the Marines, especially the ones here on UDP, this can be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” said Iha. “It is great to see both nations out here having a good time and enjoying the friendly competition.”
During the races, each boat held 10 people consisting of eight rowers, one drummer to keep pace and a coxswain to steer the craft.
“Rowing these boats is a lot more challenging than it looks,” said Lance Cpl. Ricardo Gonzalez, a Marine Air-Ground Task Force planning specialist with 4th Marine Regiment, 3rd Marine Division, III MEF. “Some of the local teams are extremely impressive with their technique. Even though we didn’t have much time to practice, it was still a great experience to get out there and give it our best shot.”
After the races were finished, a ceremony was held to honor the top finishing teams. While none of the Marine teams received an award, the experience of participating was more than enough, according to Gonzalez.
“I take advantage of pretty much every cultural activity that I can,” said Gonzalez. “This particular experience was a great challenge for me and also a great chance for me to meet new people and enjoy a day at the beach.”