Kadena Airman connects with community through volunteer efforts
KADENA AIR BASE, Japan -- Each year, thousands of Kadena Air Base residents log countless hours volunteering in the off-base community.
Master Sgt. Chris Pearsall is one of those volunteers, and he said he thinks he gets back more than he gives.
"I learn a lot from the Okinawan people," said Pearsall. "They're so family-oriented, and I get to learn so much about their culture."
He said he feels a connection to his Okinawan friends and neighbors. His uncle, a military veteran, fell in love with and married an Okinawan woman. Growing up, Pearsall's grandparents taught him the importance of giving back to his neighbors.
"Having any skill that you can give to someone else is huge," Pearsall said. "You don't know how much impact you can have ... sometimes it's just as easy as talking to someone to help out."
Pearsall does more than just talk. He's a member of the Top Three organization's Okinawa Outreach initiative, and spends a lot of time volunteering each year. He estimates he's dedicated hundreds of hours since he arrived here in 2012. Luckily, it's a family effort. His wife, Staff Sgt. Javona Pearsall, is also an active volunteer. When his daughter visits from the States each summer, she joins the family in their efforts.
In the last year, Pearsall has helped coordinate trick-or-treating on the base for about 5,000 local visitors. He collected and carried rice, canned goods, toiletries and other supplies to various shelters. He also cut grass and helped clean at homes for the elderly.
More importantly, he spent a lot of time making friends and being a great U.S. ambassador.
"We're not just guests here," he said. "We're part of the Okinawan community."
One of his favorite things to do is to volunteer with the Kadena Language Institute, where students go through two years of intensive English language courses.
Naoko Nakamura, KLI vice principal, said Pearsall has tremendous impact at her school.
Interacting one-on-one with native language speakers is a huge confidence booster for the students, she said, and volunteers like Pearsall help challenge them.
"They get too used to their teachers," she said.
But when outgoing, friendly and engaged Americans are sitting across from the students, it increases their "motivation to know and speak English," she said.
Pearsall's supervisor, Senior Master Sgt. Natalie Lucas, said Pearsall has one of the busiest jobs in the 18th Logistics Readiness Squadron as a quality assurance evaluator, but that doesn't stop him from dedicating the time to volunteer.
"No matter how busy he gets at work, he always ensures he sets aside time to volunteer in whatever capacity he can," she said. "I believe he has a genuine love for the community and wants to represent the military in the best possible light."
She said he also encourages his Airmen to dedicate their off-duty time.
"I believe his passion for volunteerism helped build his confidence, expanded his capabilities and enhanced his leadership abilities," Lucas said. "The airmen seek him out for mentorship and guidance because they see the genuine person who sets a great example in and out of uniform."
Pearsall said he hopes that he can inspire younger Airmen, civilians and family members to learn what he's learned during his time on Okinawa.
"I think it shows our Okinawan hosts that we are a part of this community, that we're immersed in the culture," he said. "We're part of Okinawa now ... it's about being part of the community, being Okinawan, and just volunteering."