Air Force spouse Alma Stover and her son, Jett Stover, 12, pose with an inspirationl poster they created and posted near an exercise trail at Yokota Air Base, Japan, Feb. 16, 2023.

Air Force spouse Alma Stover and her son, Jett Stover, 12, pose with an inspirationl poster they created and posted near an exercise trail at Yokota Air Base, Japan, Feb. 16, 2023. (Kelly Agee/Stars and Stripes)

YOKOTA AIR BASE, Japan — A mother and son’s surreptitious practice of hanging homemade posters with uplifting messages around this airlift hub in western Tokyo finally attracted official notice.

Handwritten messages on large posters tied on trees around Yokota carried inspirational reminders: “You matter,” “Be silly, be honest, be kind,” and, in Spanish, “La Vida, Es Bella, Y Vale La, Pena Vivirla,” which translates to “life is beautiful and worth living.”

Alma Stover, the wife of Air Force Master Sgt. Jeremy Stover of the 353rd Special Operations Wing, and their son, Jett, 12, put up the first posters early this month. They hung one sign in Spanish because Alma Stover is Mexican and wanted to include the large Hispanic community on base in their messaging.

“We’re all the way in Japan and there's, like lots of people that are here that don't have kids or don't have family,” Alma Stover, 40, of Hatch, N.M, told Stars and Stripes on Feb. 16. “And we just wanted to add a little smile to someone's face who might be feeling lonely or might be feeling down.”

Within weeks, a representative of the Yokota Integrated Prevention and Resilience Office contacted the Stovers, not to chide them but to offer support to keep their project going.

“It was a great initiative from this lady's part to do this,” Gloria Bryant, 374th Airlift Wing community support coordinator, told Stars and Stripes by phone Feb. 17. “She started doing it on her own. And that is the type of community connections that we need. The ones that work, and they originate organically without us having to ask anyone to do it.”

The posters elicited curiosity but hit their mark, too, according to comments on the Yokota Community Facebook page.

“Sometimes that’s all we need is a reminder that we’re loved and we’re here for a purpose,” Amy Behringer, a kindergarten teacher at Yokota West Elementary School, said through Facebook Messenger on Feb. 17. “It has 100% helped me on my hard days. On dark dreary mornings when I drive by and see a fluorescent bright sign that greets me first thing in the morning sets my day up with a smile!”

So far, the mother and son duo have hung seven signs around Yokota. Alma Stover calls them “Jetty signs” because that’s her son’s nickname.

“It makes me happy,” said Jett Stover, a seventh-grader at Yokota Middle School. “A kid from my school was talking about them and was like, ‘Have you all read those signs? I think they are really cool.’”

The Stovers bought the blank posters from the Yokota exchange right before closing and posted the messages late at night to “not get caught,” Alma Stover said.

But someone recognized Alma purchasing blank posters at the exchange and tagged her on Facebook, she said. Next, the Integrated Prevention and Resilience Office contacted her and offered to supply the Stovers with material to make more signs.

They plan to leave the signs up for two weeks and then replace them with new quotes.

A program within the office focuses on violence prevention, suicide prevention and educating service members on resources that available to them, she said.

The Stovers’ sign project advances the resiliency part of the program agenda, according to Bryant, a native of Guatemala.

“She started doing this because she wanted her community to feel better,” Bryant said. “It takes each of us to make a community feel like a community, where you can thrive, and you can be happy and healthy. And where you feel heard, seen and cared for.”

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Kelly Agee is a reporter and photographer at Yokota Air Base, Japan, who has served in the U.S. Navy for 10 years. She is a Syracuse Military Photojournalism Program alumna and is working toward her bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Maryland Global Campus. Her previous Navy assignments have taken her to Greece, Okinawa, and aboard the USS Nimitz.

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