Good Neighbors: Wisconsin Air National Guard members volunteer during deployment
KANDENA AIR BASE, Japan -- Airmen from the Wisconsin Air National Guard's 115th Fighter Wing decided that they wanted to do their part in being good neighbors during their stay on Okinawa.
By the time they leave, 40 of their members will have logged at least two hours each with the Midori School-Age Program in nearby Okinawa City.
Chief Master Sgt. James Schiferl and Master Sgt. Scott Ebert, who helped organize the efforts, said they still have a waiting list of Airmen who wish they had more time to volunteer.
"We just want to be good members of the community even though we are only going to be here a short period of time," Schiferl said. "We want to show our appreciation for people in the community."
Ebert said his initial concern was that the language barrier, and cultural nuances, might stilt the first interaction with the local children. But he laughs now when he recalls what happened during the first meeting with the kindergartners through fourth graders.
"There was no ice breaking at all," he said, adding that the children weren't shy and immediately began interacting with the Airmen.
The first few visits centered on games the Okinawan children were familiar with, including a winner-takes-all version of "rock, papers, scissors," and an incredibly energetic game of dodgeball.
Ebert said it was also an opportunity for the Airmen to learn about Japanese culture.
"We had snacks with them ... tea and wafer cookies that weren't as sweet as we're used to," he said. "And it was amazing how disciplined they are."
During their most recent visit in late March, the Airmen decided to host an Easter-themed party, complete with the Easter Bunny and hidden plastic eggs full of candy.
Harumi Shingaki, Midori School-age Program chief supervisor, said the children loved their interaction with the Airmen.
"The exchanges with the volunteers have been a very new and precious experience for our children," Shingaki said. "They need a place to release their energy and love to move around, so they really enjoyed playing together with their American big brothers and sisters."
Schiferl said he is happy that the Airmen were so well-received, and they would be the first in line to volunteer if they make it to Kadena again in the future.
"We're guests here, and I think it's important to reflect the best on our unit and ourselves," he said. "This is part of our mission, too."