Heart of the Dragon - JGSDF and U.S. Marines team up, conquer Naha Dragon Boat Races
TOMARI PORT, NAHA, Okinawa, Japan – A loud crack echoes through the fair and over the harbor. Three boats begin to pulse across the water, gaining speed as the crowd on the dock roars with excitement.
The Japanese Ground Self Defense Force soldiers and U.S. Marines teamed up May 5, 2018, to compete in the annual Naha Dragon Boat races during Naha’s celebration of Golden Week. They raced against U.S. Army and U.S. Navy teams.
“We’ve been training hard for the last month and a half, every Thursday and Saturday,” said Sgt. Matthew Demos, a drafter and surveyor with 9th Engineer Support Battalion, 3rd Marine Logistics Group, and a member of the Double Dragons. “Our team is a collaboration between the JGSDF’s 15th Engineer Company and 9th ESB. So, we call ourselves the Double Dragons.”
Demos said the Double Dragons practiced at Camp Naha and Tomari Port in preparation for the race.
“The practices have been tough,” said Lance Cpl. Von Harper Jr., a combat engineer with 9th ESB, 3rd MLG. “Talk about a sore back.”
The team raced as part of Okinawa’s Golden Week holiday celebration. Historically, only three teams raced from around the entire island and they would race out of the harbor into the open ocean. It was believed the boats would bring back fertility, wealth and happiness to the marine harvest upon their return from the sea.
Today, the races are also a tournament based on which teams average the shortest time during their race. The teams race in fiberglass boats designed to look like mythical creatures, manned with 32-man teams.
The Double Dragons faced Army and Navy teams in their race, winning first place with a time of four minutes and 23 seconds.
“Hard work pays off,” said Master Sgt. Richard Deay, engineer chief with 9th ESB, and captain of the Marines on the team. “After everything the Marines have worked for, I’m glad it paid off.”