Veteran’s Day 2021 in Okinawa: Served, and still serving

U.S. Marine Corps photo illustration by Lance Cpl. Alex Fairchild
U.S. Marine Corps photo illustration by Lance Cpl. Alex Fairchild

Veteran’s Day 2021 in Okinawa: Served, and still serving

by Lance Cpl. Alex Fairchild
Marine Corps Installations Pacific

CAMP FOSTER, OKINAWA, Japan -- Veteran’s Day. A day celebrated yearly to pay tribute to and reflect on the men and women who have worn the uniform throughout all of history. A day to remember service members that not only came before us, but also those that continue to serve today.

There are approximately 19 million U.S. military veterans, many of whom continue to serve with the military. Throughout military bases in Okinawa one may find veterans working in a wide variety of occupations like working alongside service members and local national employees, serving as military contractors, and becoming Department of Defense civilian employees.

A Former Reconnaissance Marine’s Story:

“In 2009, I joined the Marine Corps as a tank operator, and conducted a lateral move as a radio operator, and finally as a reconnaissance team leader,” said retired U.S. Marine Corps Sgt. Nicholas White, a former reconnaissance team leader with 3rd Reconnaissance Battalion. “In my career, I was fortunate enough to deploy and participate in various humanitarian operations in Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, Africa and Eastern Asia.”

White, a native of Rainelle, West Virginia, explained that one of his favorite memories in active service was participating in Operation Tomodachi, the U.S. Armed Forces disaster relief assistance operation following the Great East Japan Earthquake and subsequent tsunami. He explained that being part of the relief efforts towards the beginning of his career not only set the standard for the remainder of his active service, but created a passion for helping others in need.

“At the end of the day, the best way to serve your country is to do it for others,” said White. “That is why we have U.S. Marines and our last names on our uniform; we represent the U.S. and its citizens as well as ourselves. On Veteran’s Day, we honor our brothers and sisters that wore the uniform before us, and those who still wear it. It is a time to reflect, spend time with your friends and family, and remember those who came before us.”

Today, White resides in Okinawa with his family, and is the Semper Fit complex manager at Marine Corps Air Station Futenma, a job White explained that is fitting for him due to his background as a Marine Corps Martial Arts Instructor Trainer and Marine Corps Instructor of Water Survival.

“I spent a good portion of my 10 years of active service in Japan,” said White. “I want to continue to give back to this community in every way I can. As a father to my son, as a husband to my spouse, who is an active duty staff sergeant, and as a DoD civilian employee, I try to find ways that still allow me to serve every day.”

A Former Aviation Ordnance Chief’s Story:

Even after a full 20-year enlistment as an active duty Marine, many veterans continue to serve and use their experiences inherited from active duty. Retired Gunnery Sgt. Anthony Potter, the former III Marine Expeditionary Force aviation ordnance chief, is one of those Marines.

“I believe that whether you were in active service for four years or 20 years, you should have pride in your service,” said Potter, a native of Broken Arrow, Oklahoma. “I come from a family of not only Marines but Navy corpsmen. Although I am retired, I continue to serve as a DoD civilian employee and my son carried down the family tradition when he became a Marine.”

In 1997, Potter joined the Marine Corps as an aviation ordnance technician. Throughout his career, retiring in 2017, he deployed in support of operations such as Operation Southern Watch, Operation Iraqi Freedom, Operation Enduring Freedom, Operation Inherent Resolve, and Operation Odyssey Dawn.

“Today, I serve as the Marine Corps Base Camp Butler explosive safety officer,” said Potter. “Any unit that has an armory or handles any type of explosive material must be inspected by myself or personnel in my job field. Although I retired, I still serve in Okinawa today and live vicariously through the younger service members that work around me.”

Sacrificing for Family - A Former Explosive Ordnance Disposal Technician’s Story

Every veteran exits or retires from active duty for different reasons. Some want to explore other career options using their military experience, others pursue entirely different career paths. For retired Army Pfc. Rachel Melton, a former explosive ordnance disposal technician, taking care of her family quickly became her new focus in life.

“Everyone’s service looks differently,” said Melton, a native of Fort Sill, Oklahoma. “My time in uniform was not very long, but I want to contribute and serve the military I love and I get to do that as a civilian. Although I am no longer on active duty, I’m married to a Marine, have a beautiful family, and still get to serve my country in Okinawa.”

Melton explained that after less than two years of serving in the Army, from May 2007 through Nov. 2008, she decided to end her enlistment short in order to care for her incoming newborn. She said that she always wonders where her career could have gone, but never regrets the decision she made to start her family.

Melton continues to serve as a civilian today as the regional emergency management program manager of Marine Corps Installations Pacific. Additionally, Melton explained that she enjoys running into her former EOD technician classmates in Okinawa, and appreciates seeing them excel in their career field.

A Former Supply Chief’s Story:

After retiring, many service members utilize skills honed from their time in active duty. Retired Marine Corps Staff Sgt. Teodoro Harris, the supervisor of supply and safety technician with Communication Strategy and Operations, MCIPAC, is one of those service members.

“I joined the Marine Corps in 1999 to help my mother financially, and ended up making it a 16-year career,” said Harris, a native of Richmond, California. “Although I enjoyed the travel and deployments, leading and mentoring Marines was my favorite part about active duty.”

Harris, the former supply chief with 3rd Maintenance Battalion, 3rd Marine Logistics Group, explained that he spent the majority of his active duty career in Okinawa, where he developed a love for the culture and the positive impact it had on his family. As a Marine, he was stationed twice in Okinawa, once in Texas, and deployed to Afghanistan twice with 2nd Battalion, 3rd Marines.

Now, Harris resides in Okinawa and works with over 15 Master Labor Contractors in his supply section. The former supply chief puts his trilingual skills to use while interacting with his coworkers, as he speaks English, Spanish, and Japanese.

“I’m very thankful to have this job, and to be in Okinawa,” said Harris. “I have always loved the rich culture of Okinawa, and I’m happy to work with host-nation employees as well as be around Marines every day. Although I took an early retirement offer, I feel like I have not left the Marine Corps and still get to be a part of it daily.”

Veteran’s Day is celebrated every year on Nov. 11 to pay tribute to every living and fallen American veteran who served their country during war or peace. Every veteran has a story to tell, and it is important to listen, share and reflect upon the accounts of the men and women who have taken off the uniform.

Photo Caption:
Retired U.S. Marine Corps Sgt. Nicholas White, the Semper Fit complex manager at Marine Corps Air Station Futenma, poses for an environmental portrait on Camp Foster, Okinawa, Japan, Nov. 8, 2021. In 2009, White joined the Marine Corps as a tank operator, and conducted a lateral move as a radio operator, and finally as a reconnaissance team leader. Throughout his active duty career, terminating in 2020, he deployed in support of humanitarian operations in Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, Africa, and Eastern Asia. White is a native of Rainelle, West Virginia.

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