Marines clean beach alongside Henoko senior citizens
MATSUDA-NO-HAMA BEACH, OKINAWA, Japan -- Gray clouds heavy with rain cover the sky while sweat drips from the faces of Marines and Henoko senior citizens working side by side to pick up trash littering the sand.
Marines stationed at Camp Schwab joined members of the Henoko Senior Citizens Association to clean Matsuda-no-Hama Beach May 20 in preparation for the annual dragon boat races scheduled to take place there May 25.
The Henoko Senior Citizens Association consists of Henoko village community members who are at least 65 years old. The association participates in several community projects around the village.
“Our biggest role is to help the children get to school safely,” said Nobuyuki Kinjo, the president of the Henoko Senior Citizens Association. “We also help to keep the community clean.”
The Marines assigned to Camp Schwab volunteer to help the Henoko senior citizens with as many projects around the community as they can, according to Lance Cpl. Johnathan A. Darby, a field radio operator with 4th Marine Regiment, 3rd Marine Division, III Marine Expeditionary Force.
“We have a very close relationship with the Henoko senior citizens,” said Cpl. Ricardo Gonzalez, a Marine Air-Ground Task Force planning specialist with 4th Marines, 3rd Marine Division, III MEF. “Every time we help them I learn something new, and I hope that they can learn something from me too.”
The Marines met the Henoko senior citizens at 9 a.m. to start cleaning. They picked up trash, buried rocks and shells, and cleared brush from the beach. After the beach was cleaned, the two groups ate lunch together.
“We have very close communications with Camp Schwab,” said Kinjo. “We get volunteers very easily from the Camp Schwab Marines.”
When Marines and Okinawa community members interact, it builds positive relationships, according to Darby, a Rockmart, Ga., native. Participating in events like this is a chance for the Marines to have fun and learn about another culture while also improving the environment where they live.
“I try to volunteer every chance I get,” said Darby. “I want to help the community, and sometimes I learn something new from one of the Okinawa residents.”
The Okinawa community members enjoy learning about different cultures as much as the Marines do, according to Kinjo. Help from the Marines makes it easier for the association to keep their community in good condition.
Marines on Okinawa should to participate in as many events with Okinawa community members as possible, according to Darby. Okinawa is where the Marines live, so they share the responsibility of keeping it clean.
“This is our temporary home,” said Darby. “That doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t care about our surroundings.”
The Marines have made a great difference in the Henoko community, according to Kinjo. Many of the Henoko senior citizens enjoy when the Marines have the chance to help them because they like to learn about the Marines and teach them about themselves.
“We are very grateful for what the Marines do for us,” said Kinjo. “We see the Camp Schwab Marines as part of our community.”