Marines, Japanese troops both speak language of sports
CAMP NAHA, Okinawa — Whoever won, it all was in good fun Tuesday when Marines challenged their Japanese counterparts — and each other — in the annual Sports Exchange Day on this Japan Ground Self-Defense Force base.
Some 110 Marines with the Marine Corps Community Services Single Marine Program competed against 60 young JGSDF troops in softball, dodgeball and tug-of-war before grilling hot dogs and hamburgers and sampling cold noodle soup with wasabi sauce.
“It doesn’t get any better than this,” said John L. Estrada, sergeant major of the Marine Corps. “This helps strengthen the relationship that we have with the people of Japan, especially between the armed forces, creating stability in this part of the world.”
It was the first stop for Estrada, who works out of the Pentagon, on a day-and-a-half Okinawa visit for Marine Corps birthday events.
“This Sports Exchange Day was held to promote friendship and mutual understanding,” said Chief Warrant Officer Masaru Kaneko, JGSDF 1st Combined Brigade spokesman. “We chose to have it today to honor the visit of the Marine Corps sergeant major to Okinawa.”
Kim Newberry, Single Marine Program director, called such Single Marines events “great ways for us to show our Okinawa neighbors the real United States.”
As she spoke, Cpl. Chase Smith ran up to the softball diamond after his team, from the 3rd Reconnaissance Battalion on Camp Schwab, finished a dodgeball game against a JGSDF team. As he ran by the ballplayers, he shook their hands and thanked them for “a great time.”
“It’s just a beautiful day,” he said. “I like to get involved with the Single Marine Program now and then when they have shindigs like this.”
The program gives young Marines, not allowed to own a car or drive, “a great chance to get out and mingle with our Japanese friends, a way to get to know them better,” said Lance Cpl. Antwon Jones, 7th Communication Battalion on Camp Hansen.
As he broke off to cheer a teammate’s catch, Pvt. Samantha Meade of the same unit picked up the conversation. “The program gives me a chance to get out and do things I’ve never dreamed of before — like take part in dragon boat races,” she said. “A lot of young Marines get into trouble because they don’t take advantage of these opportunities.”
After pitching the first game for JGSDF, Pvt. Hiroyuki Tsunematsu watched his comrades rally against a tough U.S. team.
“At first I was kind of hesitant because of the language barrier,” he said. “But as the game went on, I began to realize both sides were having a lot of fun. … I hope we can do something like this more often.”
“They surely are dynamic,” said JGSDF left fielder Sgt. Mikako Shinchi. “It was a very enjoyable time.”
Appearing to be having the most fun, however, were those belting each other in spirited dodgeball games. With each spectacular twirling leap to evade the ball, and each thud of ball on flesh when the speed of the throw beat the leap, U.S. and Japanese soldiers alike roared approval. The game’s seemingly least important aspect: the score.
But a brief tug-of-war showed who had more muscle: Marine teams placed first through third.
Stars and Stripes reporter Chiyomi Sumida contributed to this report.