Holiday programs attack barracks blues
December 22, 2003
CAMP FOSTER, Okinawa — Camps and bases on Okinawa are making sure single servicemembers not heading home for the holiday season have options.
All island military facilities are running programs in which families can open their homes to those living in the barracks.
“Normally, it’s done within the work sections,” said Marine 1st Sgt. Timothius Robinson, of Bravo Company on Camp Foster. “I make my house open to them the entire day. It gives them a sense of being around family.”
Air Force Master Sgt. Michael Morelli, first sergeant for the 18th Munitions Squadron at Kadena Air Base, said supervisor involvement is key to keeping up young troops’ spirits over the holidays.
“You would be surprised how their eyes light up when you ask, ‘What are you doing for the holidays?’ and after they say ‘nothing’ you tell them, ‘Yes you are. You’re coming over to my house,’” Morelli said.
While some single soldiers from Torii Station won’t spend the day with a sponsor family, Army Sgt. Toprane Coatney, vice president of the Better Opportunity for Single Soldiers program, said those in the barracks are preparing a meal together. The BOSS program has paid for the meal and the soldiers will prepare it in the kitchen on each barracks floor.
“We’re going to cook it, serve it to each other and eat as one big happy family,” Coatney said.
At Foster’s Bravo Company barracks, Gunnery Sgt. Lorenzo Ferrell organized a competitive toy drive to benefit the Toys For Tots program. “We had four decks competing: The first against the fourth, and second against the third,” Ferrell said. “The loser had to clean the winners’ deck and common areas for three days.” It really lifted the spirits of the Marines in the barracks, Ferrell said.
“The key is to keep their minds off the fact that they’re not going home for the holidays,” said Capt. Bradley Gordon, Bravo Company commander. “We can’t do it all, but we try to keep their spirits up the best we can.”
Pfc. Charles Engblom of Bravo Company tried to spread Christmas cheer in his barracks by purchasing a 7-foot artificial tree, complete with tinsel, lights and a star, and placing it in the lounge.
“I went home last year, but this year I couldn’t, so I thought it would be great to do something for the Marines,” said Engblom, who also donated the 4-foot tree in his room to a fellow Marine who was feeling down about not going home.
Engblom’s holiday spirit doesn’t stop with the trees, though. Last year, he bought a Santa suit for his work section’s Christmas party. So far this year, he’s played old St. Nick on four occasions.
Cpl. Ronald Loucks, who lives in the same barracks, said Engblom has definitely boosted spirits.
“I’ve been here three years and the barracks usually look lousy around Christmas, but now it has a homey look to it,” Loucks said.
Torii Station officials are also helping troops get into the spirit with the BOSS program’s door-decorating contest.
At Kadena, Morelli said contests were up to individual dorm managers. He also said the 1st Sergeants Council threw a party for junior enlisted Air Force members in which $5,000 worth of goods was given away.
Over the holidays, he added, supervisors often visit the dorms to check on their troops. “The concern for our folks and compassion has come a long way in my 21 years,” Morelli said.
The Single Marine Program has scheduled Jingle Bell Fun Runs, parties with prizes and an ice skating trip on Christmas Eve, according to program manager Kim Newberry. She said Marine Corps Community Services also provided a limited supply of free artificial trees for those living in the barracks and 1,500 “survival bags” containing personal hygiene items that will be given out at gymnasiums on Camp Hansen, Schwab and Futenma Marine Corps Air Station.
United Service Organizations centers on Futenma, Hansen and Schwab will be open 24 hours a day from Wednesday morning to Friday evening, according to Marsha Altstiel, deputy chief director. They’ll offer free food and movies, and the MCCS Konnect Cafes are giving out 30 minutes of free Internet time. The USOs will also give away prizes ranging from Xboxes to DVD players.
Those interested in spending Christmas Day with a sponsor family should contact their chain of command. Call DSN 645-3681 for information about the Single Marine Program and DSN 644-4962 to hear more about BOSS. For more information on USO happenings over the holidays, contact your local USO.