“Together in Service: Bridging Cultures, Building Communities” features Staff Sgt. Stephen Epperly and Spc. Howard Gore. These soldiers are dedicated to volunteering and fostering community engagement through ongoing efforts in Yomitan, Okinawa, Japan. Their mission is to build bridges between the U.S. military and the local Japanese community through dedicated service and cultural exchange.

“Together in Service: Bridging Cultures, Building Communities” features Staff Sgt. Stephen Epperly and Spc. Howard Gore. These soldiers are dedicated to volunteering and fostering community engagement through ongoing efforts in Yomitan, Okinawa, Japan. Their mission is to build bridges between the U.S. military and the local Japanese community through dedicated service and cultural exchange. (Photo by Sgt. 1st Class Henry Gundacker)

TORII STATION, Okinawa, Japan - Amid the rhythmic hum of daily life on this vibrant island, two U.S. soldiers carve out moments of profound connection and community. Staff Sgt. Stephen Epperly and Spc. Howard Gore are more than just military personnel; they are catalysts of change, weaving community fabric through dedicated volunteerism. Their actions bridge the gap between American military presence and the local Japanese community and highlight a universal language of service and compassion. –From Humble Beginnings to Community Pillars–

“Volunteering has been a big part of my life since I was a kid in the Air Force Junior ROTC,” shares Epperly. He recalls his first volunteer event in Okinawa, manning a water station during a 10K run. The experience wasn’t just about hydration—it was his introduction to communal involvement, a cornerstone of his ethos. Epperly’s journey from a youthful participant in community clean-ups to a leadership role in the 10th Support Group’s volunteer efforts epitomizes a life dedicated to service.

In a similar vein, Gore’s commitment to volunteerism was instilled by his mother, a fervent community volunteer herself. “My mother taught me that being part of a community means supporting it with actions, not just words,” he explains. His early experiences, from battling invasive species in Okinawa to organizing beach clean-ups, were both challenging and rewarding, reinforcing his dedication to making a tangible difference. –The Art of Engagement and Its Challenges–

For Epperly, engaging with the community is about more than just filling volunteer slots; it’s a bridge to cultural immersion and personal growth. “The biggest challenge I’ve encountered is the language barrier,” he admits. Despite this, he uses volunteer work as a platform to enhance his Japanese language skills, believing that true understanding comes from deep, meaningful interaction.

Gore faces similar challenges, particularly in ensuring the alignment of volunteer efforts with the goals set by event organizers. “Understanding the mission behind each event and effectively contributing to its success can be daunting,” he says. However, overcoming these obstacles has honed his leadership skills, evident in his ability to inspire and manage teams during volunteer projects. –Memorable Moments and Lasting Impact–

Each volunteer experience leaves a unique imprint on both the community and the volunteers themselves. Epperly fondly remembers organizing a Halloween-themed blood drive, which turned a routine medical procedure into a festive community event. “It’s about making these experiences enjoyable and memorable, which encourages greater community involvement,” he enthuses.

Gore echoes this sentiment, highlighting a recent event where he introduced Okinawan children to the American tradition of an Easter egg hunt. “Seeing their excitement, witnessing them engage in something new—it’s moments like these that remind me why I volunteer,” he reflects. –Cultural Exchange at Coral Daycare: A Day of Joy and Learning– At Coral Daycare, also known as “Gakudo,” both soldiers last volunteered together, enhancing the nurturing and flexible environment that allows children to thrive. “Our program places a strong emphasis on English language learning and dancing, ensuring a well-rounded development for each child,” says Ariri Greaves Coral Daycare teacher, illustrating the daycare’s commitment to education and joyful learning.

“Spending time at Gakudo was an eye-opener,” Epperly says. “It’s one thing to volunteer, but another to see the direct impact on these kids’ confidence and language skills. It’s incredibly rewarding.”

Gore adds, “At Gakudo, we’re not just visitors; we become part of their learning journey. Engaging with the kids in activities that combine fun and education highlights the essence of why we do what we do.” –Shaping the Future Through Service–

Looking ahead, both men are committed to expanding their volunteer efforts. Epperly is keen on exploring opportunities that support veterans transitioning back to civilian life, while Gore is interested in roles that allow him to interact with different community sectors, like healthcare and education.

“The impact we can have is immense, not just in beautifying spaces or organizing events, but in fostering a sense of unity and understanding between cultures,” Gore comments on the broader implications of their work. –Advice for Aspiring Volunteers–

For those considering volunteer work, Epperly and Gore offer simple yet profound advice. “Start small, find what you’re passionate about, and commit to making a difference,” Epperly encourages. Gore adds, “It’s about getting out there and experiencing the joy of giving back. You’ll find that it enriches your life in unexpected ways.”

Their stories are a testament to volunteerism’s power to transform individual lives and entire communities. As they continue their efforts, the ripple effects of their commitment are felt far beyond the immediate scope of their activities, crafting a legacy of service and cooperation that bridges cultures and strengthens bonds. Translated by shigehiro yabiku 翻訳:屋比久茂弘


沖縄県 TORI STATION - 2 人の兵士が沖縄島の活気に満ちた地元コミュニティとつながるために出発しました。エプリー・スティーブンス軍曹とゴア・ハワード専門官は単なる兵士ではありませんでした。彼らはボランティア活動を通じて地域社会に参加していました。彼らの活動は米軍と地域社会の間の溝を埋め、言語教育を支援しています。










-学童での文化交流: 学ぶ喜びの日-

コーラル学童クラブで、2人の兵士が子育て支援のお手伝いをするため訪問しました。そこで教員をしているグリーブズ アイリ女史はこう言っています。「私達の学童は、子供達各々が博識な大人に成長するよう、英語教育とダンスに力を入れています。」







ボランティアに興味がある兵士へ、エプリーとゴアからシンプルだか深いアドバイスがあります。 「小さな事から始め、自分が没頭できる事を見つけ、そして結果を出そう。」ゴアは「先ず外に出てみよう。以外な形で、自分の人生がより豊かになるかもしれないよ。」


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