Japanese employee retires after 44 years

Base Info
Keiko Onaga, center, stands with Col. James G. Flynn, left, and Sgt. Maj. Delvin R. Smythe thanking Onaga for her 44 years of dedicated service Dec. 18 at the Marine Corps Air Station Futenma Chaplain’s Office. Flynn is the commanding officer, and Smythe is the sergeant major of MCAS Futenma. (Courtesy photo)
Keiko Onaga, center, stands with Col. James G. Flynn, left, and Sgt. Maj. Delvin R. Smythe thanking Onaga for her 44 years of dedicated service Dec. 18 at the Marine Corps Air Station Futenma Chaplain’s Office. Flynn is the commanding officer, and Smythe is the sergeant major of MCAS Futenma. (Courtesy photo)

Japanese employee retires after 44 years

by: Cpl. Natalie M. Rostran | .
Okinawa Marine Staff | .
published: January 11, 2014

MARINE CORPS AIR STATION FUTENMA, Japan - Faithful. Consistent. Dedicated. After 44 years of working for the Marine Corps Air Station Futenma Chaplain’s Office, Keiko Onaga retired Dec. 18 from her position as the administrative specialist.

Onaga began working for the chaplain’s office in 1969, after seeing a flyer promoting the position. She had worked with the U.S. Army for four years before transitioning to the Marine Corps.

“At first, I didn’t want to apply, but my friends encouraged me,” said Onaga. “I wasn’t a Christian back then, and I didn’t know anything about chaplains or the Marine Corps. It was all new.”

Since then, Onaga has continuously worked with the office over four decades, seven different office buildings and dozens of chaplains.

“When I started, there wasn’t a (religious program specialist),” said Onaga. “It was just me and the chaplain. There would be a new one every two years. There were so many.”

The chaplains on MCAS Futenma attribute their easy transitions in part to Onaga’s unwavering dedication to the office, according to Lt. Cmdr. Matthew Weems, the station chaplain with MCAS Futenma.

“She’s the continuity between chaplains. She knows what’s going on, and knows what reports are due and when,” said Weems. “She had contact with all the different organizations we work with outside the Marine Corps. She also knew all the (master labor contractors) that work on station. She was networked in with the civilian side of the house.”

Onaga not only worked as an administrative specialist, but her Japanese language skills helped the office keep their volunteer opportunities open and dependable, according to Weems.

“We wouldn’t have been able to do community relations projects the way we did without her,” said Weems. “As the chaplain’s office, we can really be autonomous, really mobile. We can schedule things when other community relations specialists aren’t available.”

With Onaga’s help, the chaplain’s office provided services to communities that would otherwise be out of reach, according to Navy Lt. Wesley E. Schlotz, the chaplain with Headquarters and Headquarter Squadron, MCAS Futenma.

“She (planned) most of our volunteer trips,” said Scholtz. “She made the calls, got the directions, and made maps for volunteers to follow. On site, when there was ever a language barrier, she was there to help (by translating).”

Onaga has enjoyed her work and appreciates all the opportunities the position has given her.

“Everyone was always so nice to me, all the chaplains and RPs,” said Onaga. “They were always so understanding, which was good as a mother of three kids. I am so proud to have worked for the Marine Corps and the Chaplain Corps.”

Onaga’s hard work and dedication will be sorely missed at the chaplain’s office, according to Weems. Onaga now dedicates her time to her children, grandchildren and her church.

“She always went above and beyond the call, for 44 years,” said Weems. “She was sweet and easy to get along with. Humble. Faithful. Dedicated. We’re going to miss her.”