Students, service members create lasting bonds during exchange
CAMP FOSTER, OKINAWA, Japan -- Gripping a rope tightly in their hands, the whistle blows and they pull with all their might. Straining with effort, they struggle to pull until one team begins to overpower the other. In seconds, the referee blows his whistle and declares a victor.
The tug-of-war event was one of several activities held during a cultural exchange between U.S. service members and Busy Bee International Japanese Elementary School students, just outside Camp Foster’s “Legion Gate.”
The event took place over two days, starting July 13 with a picnic at the school and picking up again with a field trip for the students July 15 to Camp Foster and Marine Corps Air Station Futenma.
This past year, on the 40th anniversary of Okinawa’s reversion to Japan, the students had their first friendship day picnic, according to Michael B. Martin, a volunteer at the school. It received such a positive turnout that the school staff decided to make it an annual event.
“It helps bring an understanding of (Americans) to the children,” said Martin. “The children know the American military is here, but they don’t know much about them.”
The picnic opened with the students performing several traditional Okinawa dances to welcome the volunteers and guests. After the performances, the students and volunteers integrated into teams to play several games like American dodgeball and tug-of-war.
Events such as the friendship picnic are a good way to build relationships between the U.S. armed forces and the people of Okinawa, according to Sgt. Daniel Olvera, a participant and bulk fuel specialist with 9th Engineer Support Battalion, 3rd Marine Logistics Group, III Marine Expeditionary Force. The event afforded service members the opportunity to interact with people in a relaxed setting.
“The children get to see our playful side and are more likely to talk to us and feel more comfortable doing activities or sports when we are out of uniform,” said Olvera. “They relate to us easier when they can see that we have fun just like they do.”
Hoping to teach their students more about the U.S. armed forces and the English language, the staff arranged for a tour of Camp Foster and MCAS Futenma.
“We want them to be more exposed to the English language and an environment where people interact while using it,” said Sachiko Arakaki, the principal of the school. “They can learn a lot of things in the classroom but seeing these things with their own eyes and learning from the people who actually do the things that they are learning about is infinitely better.”
The field trip began at the Marine Corps Installations Pacific and 1st Marine Aircraft Wing headquarters building on Camp Foster, where the students were given a tour viewing the newly built wind turbine.
The tour was an opportunity for the students to see the Marines in their working environment, according to Robert D. Eldridge, the guide and translator during the tour and deputy assistant chief of staff, G-7, government and external affairs, Marine Corps Base Camp Smedley D. Butler, MCIPAC.
“It let them learn more about how we work,” said Eldridge. “The more they learn about us, the more they’ll understand about what we are doing here.”
The trip continued on to MCAS Futenma were they were given a presentation by Lt. Col. Sean P. Patak, the executive officer of MCAS Futenma.
“I love interacting with the children and showing them what we do,” said Patak. “I’d do stuff like this every day if I could.”
The students and staff were also given a tour of an MV-22B Osprey before going to the fire station.
The Marines at the station displayed their firefighting skills by demonstrating the response time between receiving an emergency call and responding to it, according to Cpl. Larry W. Danley, an aircraft rescue and firefighting specialist with Headquarters and Headquarters Squadron, MCAS Futenma. The Marines at the firefighting station have to respond quickly in order to save lives.
The students watched as the Marines donned their protective equipment and drove off in a matter of minutes, proving their readiness to complete their mission.
For the children, the demonstrations served as a fun way to interact with the military, while learning about the different roles of each service member.
“I think we were really lucky because some schools don’t get to do this,” said Autumn Cleymans, a third-grade student at the school. “I had a lot of fun, and I really liked meeting and playing with the Americans and I hope we can play again soon.”