Students get on-the-job experience in professional Marine Corps environment

by Lance Cpl. David N. Hersey, III MEF/MCIPAC Consolidated Public Affairs Office
U.S. Marine Corps

CAMP FOSTER, OKINAWA, Japan -- In today’s job market, employers are looking beyond just education and degrees and attempting to find employees who already possess a background in their field. Internships provide the opportunity to gain the real-world experience companies are searching for, even before potential employees graduate college.

The G-7, government and external affairs office at Camp Foster has sponsored the Marine Corps Installations Pacific G-7 Internship Program for Japanese university students since 2011.

The internship provides a chance to learn more about the relationship between people from Japan and the U.S., according to Dr. Robert D. Eldridge, the deputy assistant chief of staff with G-7, government and external affairs, Marine Corps Installations Pacific-Marine Corps Base Camp Butler.

“It’s an opportunity for Japanese young people to see what we do firsthand,” said Eldridge, a Wall Township, New Jersey, native. “They can learn about what it’s like to be a working in a professional environment. They provide their own ideas and leave a lasting contribution towards the relationship between the U.S. and Japan.”

This internship introduces its participants to new experiences and offers different perspectives, according to Deirdre M. Erkman, a senior at Tulane University, and intern with the program. Seeing Okinawa as more than just a tourist location and working closely Marines and Okinawa master labor contractors are what stand out most among new experiences and perspectives.

“I’ve learned about the interactions between the Marine Corps and the local Okinawan community,” said Erkman, a New Orleans, Louisiana, native. “I’ve learned how the Marine Corps is structured and that it is not the average person’s idea of what the military (really) is.”

Potential interns have specific criteria they are required to meet in order to qualify to participate in the program. The students must be Japanese citizens currently enrolled in an undergraduate or graduate program, committed to bettering the relationship between Japan and the U.S., have good writing and speaking skills in both Japanese and English, be able to conduct quality research in both languages, be knowledgeable about political-military and alliance issues, show maturity and responsibility, and possess good interpersonal skills.

Since the program began, the presence of the interns has proved effective in several projects involving Okinawa and mainland Japan, such as the Oshima Youth Cultural Exchange Program, according to Eldridge. After Oshima Island was struck by a tsunami, an exchange program was created to give the children from the island temporary relief from the stressful environment.

“Our first intern, a young man by the name of Fumiya Sato, was key in helping us implement the Oshima Youth Cultural Exchange Program,” said Eldridge. “He was my “right hand” throughout the whole process, and his contributions aided us greatly in completing it. Today the program still serves as a kind of relief from living in the disaster zone and provides an opportunity to build better relations between Japan and the U.S.”

Another benefit of the internship program is that it gives the students a look at the environment inside a military installation and does away with some common misconceptions about the U.S. military, according to Teiko Yoshida, an intern with the program and a senior at Senshu University. It also provides interns with the opportunity to practice international communication.

“I was expecting the base to be more closed to anyone not American,” said Yoshida. “I was surprised by how many Japanese people actually work here. I also enjoy getting to practice my English and learning more about the military itself. I am glad I had the opportunity to do something like this, and I plan to use what I learned here in the future.”

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