Okinawa, US strengthen friendships via cleanup efforts

Base Info
Masamichi Sakihama untangles ribbon from the fence March 24 at gate 3 on Marine Corps Air Station Futenma. Okinawa citizens, Marines and status of forces agreement personnel volunteer to clean the fences weekly to help keep Ginowan City clean. “We clean the fences because we want to make this the nicest place in Ginowan City,” said Sakihama, a volunteer with the Okinawa Osprey fan club. (Photo by Lance Cpl. Elizabeth A. Case)
Masamichi Sakihama untangles ribbon from the fence March 24 at gate 3 on Marine Corps Air Station Futenma. Okinawa citizens, Marines and status of forces agreement personnel volunteer to clean the fences weekly to help keep Ginowan City clean. “We clean the fences because we want to make this the nicest place in Ginowan City,” said Sakihama, a volunteer with the Okinawa Osprey fan club. (Photo by Lance Cpl. Elizabeth A. Case)

Okinawa, US strengthen friendships via cleanup efforts

by: Lance Cpl. Elizabeth A. Case, Marine Corps Installations Pacific | .
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published: April 06, 2013

MARINE CORPS AIR STATION FUTENMA, Okinawa, Japan -- As people drive through gate 3 to enter and exit Marine Corps Air Station Futenma, they can easily see the trash accumulating throughout the week. By Friday, large amounts of garbage are strewn along the fence line.

Each Monday, however, the fences are clean and pristine, as a group of Okinawa citizens, Marines and status of forces agreement personnel volunteer together to spend their Sunday mornings removing the garbage.

The volunteers use this fence cleanup project, which began in December 2012, as a way to build friendships and beautify the community.

“The fence line (at MCAS Futenma) is part of the scenery of Ginowan City,” said Bogey Tedokon, the manager of the cleanup project. “We view the base personnel as good neighbors and friends, so we don’t think this is a place for people to leave their trash.”

The gates of MCAS Futenma are a common place for people to meet and express their views towards the U.S. bases and their involvement on Okinawa. During the week, a variety of items are affixed to the gate’s fences, such as pieces of cardboard, red duct tape and strips of ribbon.

Okinawa citizens noticed the increased trash accumulation and began to clear the fences to show their appreciation for those who live and work on base, according to Mikako Miyagi, the president of the Okinawa Osprey fan club. Many volunteers are part of groups on Okinawa that support the Marine Corps, such as the Okinawa Osprey fan club and operation arigato.

The cleaned fences did not go unnoticed by base personnel and, over time, Marines and status of forces agreement personnel began volunteering to work alongside the Okinawa citizens.

“I am simply a volunteer here to clean the fences with our friends in Okinawa,” said Sgt. Maj. Brent L. Cook, the sergeant major of MCAS Futenma. “This is a great way to spend a Sunday morning because it shows that we, as individuals, can do something positive and bring people together. We are doing this for Ginowan City.”

As the number of people who continue to help clean the fences has grown, the project has become more than just a community service event, providing an opportunity for friendships to develop and grow, according to Cook. Participants look forward to the chance to meet during the cleanups.

Through this ongoing service to the community, Okinawa citizens, Marines and SOFA personnel can continue to foster good relationships in Japan.

“We try to enhance the Japan and U.S. friendship through this project,” said Tedokon. “I think the true meaning of ‘tomodachi’ is to build friendships between the local (residents) and Americans by various means, such as cleaning the town together. Friendship is the way to keep a good environment.”