For many Pacific servicemembers, the little things mattered most in 2004
January 3, 2005
CAMP FOSTER, Okinawa — The year 2004 was an eventful one, marked by typhoons, tsunamis, the war on terrorism and landmark elections at home and abroad.
Yet for many U.S. servicemembers in the Pacific and their families, the little events — a new baby, a successful deployment — mattered most at year’s end.
“It was inviting a couple of single Marines over for Christmas dinner,” said Erica Irvin, 25, who moved to Okinawa in November with her Marine husband and two young children. They decided to “adopt” a few Marines for the holidays.
“It was so nice, being able to sit down to dinner and exchange gifts and provide them with a family — a home away from home,” said the Harlem, N.Y., native. “It just made it such a wonderful Christmas.”
Fireman Josh Farquhar, 19, from Sasebo Naval Base, Japan’s detachment of Assault Craft Unit One, took two weeks of leave in August to travel home to McDonough, Ga., where he met his newborn sister.
“This year I had a chance to meet my new sister,” Farquhar said. “It’s nice to have a sister. It forced me to learn a lot, like the kind of things you might have to do when you become a father.”
His mother is 45 years old, so a sister was not something he expected.
“Yes, it’s unusual,” he added. “But hey, it happens.”
Across the Sea of Japan, Senior Airman Ivan Rodriguez, an air traffic controller at Osan Air Base, South Korea, said the year brought two happy events likely to have long-term effects on his life.
For one thing, he was assigned to Osan’s 51st Operations Support Squadron, where air traffic controllers get a high-tempo workout in applying their skills to an array of aircraft.
“I’m learning more here than I did at my last base,” said Rodriguez, 24. “We have a lot of aircraft coming in and out. … The different type of airframes, big ones, heavies, fast ones … That’s not something you can get at just any base in the States.”
But the most significant event involved family.
“My sister’s having a kid so I’m going to be an uncle,” he said. “I’ll get to see them when I go home on mid-tour. I found out when I got here. … So that’s pretty cool.”
After fetching his mail at Camp Foster’s post office Thursday, Gunnery Sgt. Ben Leake, 38, said 2004 was just a “good quiet year. That about sums it up.”
Leake, of Amboy, Ill., with Marine Wing Support Squadron 172, said 2004 was marked by “being able to spend the year with my family without any long deployments. Forty-six days to Korea was the longest. It was nice.”
Retired Marine Master Sgt. Joe Sims, 59, said “nothing extraordinary happened” in 2004. “Nothing good and, more importantly, nothing terribly bad. But that’s the way life should be, nothing very bad, nothing very good. It’s just a good, good life.”
Young men and women join the Navy in part to see the world, which is what marked the year for Petty Officer 2nd Class James Kimber, with Commander Task Force 76 at Sasebo Naval Base in southern Japan.
“Being deployed in Thailand during Cobra Gold was great,” he said. “I made many of my best friends in a place I had never imagined ever seeing.
“It’s difficult now to imagine that a country with such beauty and friendly people has suffered such devastation as that from the tsunamis,” he added. “I’m glad the U.S. and others are assisting with relief.”
For Navy Airman Arsenio Hawkins, an aviation boatswain’s mate aboard the USS Kitty Hawk at Yokosuka Naval Base, Japan, 2004 also was memorable for visiting new places — “a trip to Australia. And Hong Kong.”
Hawkins said he also enjoyed sightseeing and shopping in Singapore and Guam — but he’ll probably remember his birthday most: “My 21st birthday. In Las Vegas. It was great.”
Travel also marked Marine Sgt. Carlos Lopez’s year. In November, Lopez, assigned to Iwakuni Marine Corps Air Station’s Headquarters and Headquarters Squadron, flew to visit his wife. “I flew back to Phoenix and stayed through the holidays,” he said Thursday afternoon, back in Iwakuni. “I went mainly so I could see my newborn daughter,” the couple’s second daughter. “Having a second child has a big impact on our lives. We were really ready to have a second child.
“Also, 2004 is the first time I’ve been stationed in Japan,” Lopez said. “I really like it here because the people are friendly and it’s a beautiful country. And I saw snow for the first time in my life here in Japan.”
For Air Force Staff Sgt. Ryan Ayers, an avionics sensors technician with the 51st Maintenance Squadron at Osan Air Base, the year’s highlight was job-related: a Dec. 1 promotion from senior airman to staff sergeant.
It’s “meant more responsibility, more pull as to what goes on and obviously, more money to support the family,” said Ayers, who has a 22-month-old son, Ryan II, with wife Cassandra.
Air Force Senior Airman Jeremy Anton, 23, a Korean linguist with the 303rd Intelligence Squadron at Osan, also cited a job-related event as the year’s most significant. “I went to a language school, 10 weeks, in Seoul,” he said. “I’m a Korean linguist so I have to take a test every year. So after I finished that course, I doubled my scores.”
A successful test also highlighted the year for Air Force Staff Sgt. Shaka Charles, with the 374th Logistics Readiness Squadron at Yokota Air Base: He made E-5.
“It was my first time testing,” he said. “I studied really hard. It was a goal I set and I accomplished it.”
Buster Winters said his first year at Yokota Air Base solidified what he wants to do in life. He came there hoping to be a Department of Defense Dependents Schools teacher but needed a few courses to earn the teaching certificate needed to accompany his degree.
So while working toward his certificate, he took a job working with toddlers and preschoolers at the Yokota Child Development Center — and through it, realized with more certainty how much he wants to teach.
“Each and every day is a new and wonderful thing for me,” he said. “The whole year of being there working with the kids has been a great experience. It’s been an incredible year for me.”
Marine Master Sgt. Bill Foote, 45, said the U.S. presidential election marked the year most for him.
“I really believe in what we are doing in Iraq and President Bush is the person to lead us,” he said. “There’s a price for freedom and, as a Marine, I am ready to pay that price.”
Otherwise, said Foote, with the 3rd Forces Service Support Group on Okinawa, his year was marked by staying healthy and not getting promoted.
“On the good side, I’m healthy,” he joked. “On the bad side, I didn’t get selected for promotion. But life goes on.
“I think what happened over the weekend, with the thousands dying in the tsunamis, showed us all how fragile life is.”
Juliana Gittler, Franklin Fisher and Greg Tyler contributed to this report.