Tree lighting unites community

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Residents of Kin Town and U.S. service members attend a Christmas tree lighting outside of Camp Hansen Nov. 30. The tree lighting ceremony is an annual event held between Kin Town and Camp Hansen to celebrate the Christmas season. Photo by Lance Cpl. Elizabeth A. Case
Residents of Kin Town and U.S. service members attend a Christmas tree lighting outside of Camp Hansen Nov. 30. The tree lighting ceremony is an annual event held between Kin Town and Camp Hansen to celebrate the Christmas season. Photo by Lance Cpl. Elizabeth A. Case

Tree lighting unites community

by: lance Cpl. Elizabeth A. Case | .
Okinawa Marine staff | .
published: December 07, 2012

CAMP HANSEN — Standing outside on a rainy evening, Japanese and American children smiled and giggled as they excitedly watched and waited for Santa Claus and the bright blue lights of the Christmas tree lighting.

These individuals, although separated by culture, gathered to share the joys of the holiday season at the Christmas tree lighting in Kin Town outside Camp
Hansen Nov. 30.

“This event is great for the town,” said Staff Sgt. Erick Hurley, an artilleryman with 12th Marine Regiment, 3rd Marine Division, III Marine Expeditionary Force, who came to the event with his family. “It adds to scenery here in Kin, and it’s good for the kids.”

Groups walked the short distance to the center of Kin Town to enjoy the remainder of the night by sipping apple cider and listening to holiday music by the III
MEF Band.

The event represents the deep friendship between the citizens of Kin Town and the service members on Camp Hansen, especially in the holiday season,  according to Col. Stephen B. Lewallen, the Camp Hansen commander.

Many service members are away from their families during the holiday season, so events like this one are one of many opportunities provided by Marine Corps
Community Services and local communities as a way for service members to continue to celebrate.

“For (service members) tonight, this is a symbol of what they would do back home,” said Lewallen. “It really is a taste of home. This is a time to cherish family, honor old friendships and create new relationships. It is a time to celebrate and renew our faith in mankind, prosperity and peace. We thank the community for their hospitality here.”

Three years ago, the Kin Town Chamber of Commerce asked the service members of Camp Hansen to take part in the holiday event the chamber had been hosting for many years as a way to strengthen their relationship, according to Mark Roberts, the camp director of Camp Hansen.

The tree was in the center of Kin Town, but Kin Town residents felt the best place for it was in front of gate one. The town of Kin provides the tree each year,
and Camp Hansen provides the space and both work together to plan the festivities.

Since the town and camp began hosting the event together three years ago, the event has expanded, and the number of participants continues to grow,
according to Roberts.

“This event is one of the best ways to promote friendship between the Marine Corps and the local community – what better way to say you care,” said Roberts.

Later in the night, Santa Claus and his helpers from the USO and the base chapel made their way over to Camp Hansen to present gifts to the 28 children
from the Himawari school age program in Nago.

This event was seen by many as a way to share and strengthen relationships among the service members and local citizens, according to Morimitsu Kokuba,
the president of the Kin Town Chamber of Commerce.

“This is the time we need to understand each other,” said Kokuba. “By doing things like this, we can (learn to) know each other as we live with each other. I personally hope there will be more opportunities for both the U.S. and local people to get to know each other as good neighbors.”