Marines, Camp Courtney staff donate backpacks to Okinawa children

by Cpl. Joey S. Holeman, Jr., III MEF/MCIPAC Consolidated Public Affairs Office
U.S. Marine Corps

URUMA CITY, OKINAWA, Japan --  Marines and Camp Courtney employees raised money to donate elementary school backpacks to children with “Uruhashi,” the Uruma City Single Mother Association Feb. 4 in Uruma City, Okinawa.

The backpacks, also known as “randoseru,” are customarily used in Japan elementary schools from first to sixth grade. A randoseru is made of fine leather and has been the standard bag used by elementary school children since the 1960s. Traditionally, girls receive red backpacks, and boys receive black ones.

The prices for the backpacks range from $150 to more than $800, a costly amount for single mothers to pay. When Marines at Camp Courtney discovered the association's situation, they took initiative to help out for a cause, and Ichiro Umehara, a liaison officer with Camp Courtney, Camp Services, was able to assist with the connection.

“Ichiro-san came to a couple of us and explained what the Single Mother Association was,” said Cpl. Brandon G. Taylor, a special intelligence system administrator assigned to III Marine Expeditionary Force Headquarters Group. “They needed a couple school bags, which are pretty expensive, but didn’t have the funds to get them. So I went around and started mowing some lawns, washing cars, helped people move furniture, and the people were more than happy to donate to the cause.”

Umehara wanted to help open the eyes of the Marine Corps community to an organization that truly needs help, such as the Single Mother Association.

“When Cpl. Taylor and I heard this information we didn't think of anything else except that these two little girls need those backpacks,” said Corey L. Carter, the Single Marine Program camp coordinator for Camp Courtney. “With me being a parent, this situation wasn't a question of why or how, but when.”

Two girls received the backpacks during a ceremony inside the Single Mother Association Center in Uruma City, and were visibly shy, nervous and excited to receive the new school bags for the first time.

“She is very happy and thankful she received a bag for school,” said the mother of one of the children.

Although the girls were grateful for the backpacks, Taylor admitted he felt anxious and uncertain of how they would react.

“I was just nervous they wouldn’t like the bags — I thought I got the wrong color,” laughed Taylor, from Aiken, South Carolina. “I’m happy they like them. The kids deserve the bags.”

Taylor and Carter displayed that a little effort can make an impact on people who may need extra help.
“Helping is always a good thing, whether it is individual people, a small group or even a large organization as the Marine Corps itself,” said Taylor. “Either way, there is no negative side of helping.”

Donating the backpacks also set an example of how others can be ambassadors for their communities.
“It’s quite easy to say that this builds a good relationship between the United States military personnel and the citizens of Okinawa,” said Carter, a Chicago, Illinois, native. “But as people of this amazing world do, if the opportunity is there to help others, the only right thing to do is help.”

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