Okinawa Marines continue community relations events in spite of tensions
Stars and Stripes | .
published: July 11, 2016
CAMP FOSTER, Okinawa — Marine Lance Cpl. Kyshia Holloway motioned to a little old Japanese woman how to use a ladle to spread marinara sauce on pizza dough at a community engagement event that had no overtones of the animosity many Okinawa residents feel toward the U.S. military presence here. On this Thursday afternoon, the only thing that mattered at the 12th Marines Mess Hall on Camp Hansen was which toppings the woman wanted to put on her pizza.
“Cabbage?” she asked in perfect English.
Unfortunately, there was no cabbage — Holloway could not help but respond with a smile. The women beamed as the pizza was placed into the chow hall’s oven.
“They taught me to be grateful,” Holloway said of the residents visiting from the Reimei No Sato home for disabled adults as sweat gleamed from her brow after helping to make dozens of pizzas.
“I’m very thankful for this event and being able to give back,” the Durham, N.C., native said. “This is part of the reason why I joined the Marine Corps. I wanted to serve my country and to extend a hand to the Japanese.”
This was the side of the U.S.-Okinawa relationship that doesn’t get as much attention as the military misbehavior that can dominate the local news and lead to calls for all Marines to leave the island.
The 12th Marine Regiment has been doing six or seven events with the Uruma-based home per year for over a decade. Hundreds of other community relations events are conducted on the island each year, Marine officials said — 147 in March alone, with 4,226 Marine Corps representatives and 8,819 Okinawan residents taking part. Other events include outreaches at orphanages, children’s homes, clinics for the disabled and medical centers.
Approximately 30 Reimei No Sato residents came to Hansen for the make-your-own-pizza event. The median age was 40 to 50, and the oldest resident was 78. Several dozen Marines, their spouses and children also attended.
The Marines said it was important to continue to show the local community that they care. The visitors clearly appreciated it.
“The pizza-making event was very special for them because it was a rare chance for them to eat something they prepared by themselves,” said Yasuko Yonashiro, Reimei No Sato’s director. “They had such a great time and they really like the white caps they were given to enter the kitchen. Even after coming back, no one wants to take it off.”
Yonashiro said the home’s residents struggle with loneliness because they cannot live with their families for one reason or another.
“All the Marines were so kind to them,” she said.
This event was the brainchild of Beth Lewis, wife of regiment commander Col. J.C. Lewis. She reached out to the regiment’s chaplain, Navy Lt. Cmdr. Richard Lee, who coordinated with the mess facility.
“I thought it would be a great idea to get the spouses involved and give back to our host nation,” Mrs. Lewis said. “I wanted [the residents] to take ownership of a project and leave with a sense of accomplishment and a sense of independence. They love pizza.”
The event equally affected Marines like Holloway and Sgt. Dominique Williams, of Albany, Ga.
“It’s a humbling experience,” Williams said. “I didn’t see too many people with disabilities growing up. It brings a smile to my face to see how happy they are.”
The next Marines event for the residents will take place in August at the beach.
Stars and Stripes reporter Chiyomi Sumida contributed to this report.