Mango Mike: Marine veteran plants roots in Okinawa
CAMP HANSEN, OKINAWA, Japan – The sun is just starting to peek through the greenhouse where the crunching of the mulch can be heard. The wheels of the red wagon will roll behind a man echoing a Marine Corps cadence. In the Okinawa heat, he looks, sniffs and searches through rows of mango trees for ripe fruit to take to the market.
Mike A. Miranda’s life wasn’t always this way. He joined the Marine Corps December 4, 2000, to get off the streets and away from trouble. Little did he know, he had a green thumb.
In 1999, Miranda graduated high school in Orlando, Florida but denied the scholarships he was offered.
“I was a very stubborn teenager,” he said. “I spent two years just getting in trouble and hanging out with the wrong people.”
Miranda said his life changed forever, and if it weren’t for the Marine Corps he wouldn’t be where he is today.
Miranda arrived at III Marine Expeditionary Force Headquarters Group, Okinawa, Japan, for his first duty station.
“I hit the ground running in May 2001, and two months later I met my wife,” he said. “I’m not one to believe in love at first sight, but I fell in love with Shino the minute I saw her.”
Miranda enjoyed the beauty of the island and the love of his life so much he chose to extend his contract twice. During his second extension, he married Shino.
Just seven months after their wedding, they journeyed back to the United States, where Miranda received orders to Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort, South Carolina. He was only there for a year before he deployed to Iraq for the first time.
“Operation Iraqi Freedom was good and bad,” said Miranda. “We lost some friends, but we made it through.”
When he returned home, he prepared to leave again for another deployment in Iraq. This time was different for Miranda and his wife.
“Three weeks before I left, my wife told me she was pregnant,” he said. “I was in Iraq through the whole pregnancy, but [my daughter] was my motivation to get it done and come back. Still to this day, that little girl amazes me.”
Shortly afterwards, Miranda became a drill instructor at Marine Corps Recruit Depot San Diego.
“It was the most rewarding [experience] that I ever had,” said Miranda, when talking of his last duty station. “The impact that I had on those young men will be with me for the rest of my life.”
After 14 years of service, Miranda decided it was time for something new. He wanted to serve in a different way, but asked himself, “What am I going to do now?”
When Miranda and his wife were dating they walked through a grocery store in Okinawa and saw two mangos in a box. He was shocked that they cost $20.
“She bought them for me and I loved them,” said Miranda. “Then she told me her father was a mango farmer and I had to meet him.”
After a family dinner, Miranda quickly made an impression on his soon-to-be father-in-law, Takeshi Uehara. He told Miranda if he ever wanted to get in to the mango business he would help him.
Miranda had always wanted to own his own business, and he decided the best way to do it would be through agriculture.
Miranda took his father-in-law’s offer and moved back to Okinawa with his wife and daughter to start the next chapter of his life. He became a mango farmer and built eight greenhouses from the ground up alongside his brother-in-law and Uehara.
“I have to thank my father-in-law for teaching me and encouraging me,” said Miranda, who is known locally as Mango Mike. “At first it was rough; there was a lot of work to do, but I learned a lot from him. He took me under his wing.”
Uehara is thankful Miranda is there to help and eventually take over the business.
“I have less work to do now,” said Uehara with a smile on his face. “I am very confident in him and his ability to run the farm.”
The Marine Corps taught Miranda countless things, but one thing that stands out to him is the ability to adapt and overcome.
“Blood, sweat and tears have gone into this place,” he said. “At times, it gets tough. There is a lot of work to do, but it’s such an honor to be a veteran who now owns his own business.”
Miranda said he has a symbiotic relationship with his mango trees. He needs them, and they need him.
It’s now 10 p.m., the light of the moon strikes Mango Mike’s face as he closes the screen door to a greenhouse. He wipes the sweat from his brow, hops in his truck and glances at how far he’s come since joining the Marine Corps 17 years ago.