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Lance Cpl. David Wilkie saws a branch off a tree at the Nakijin Christian Church Camp on Wednesday.
Lance Cpl. David Wilkie saws a branch off a tree at the Nakijin Christian Church Camp on Wednesday. (Bryan A. Peterson / U.S. Marine Corps)

NAKIJIN VILLAGE, Okinawa — About 30 Marines volunteered to spend a hot, humid Wednesday doing groundskeeping work at Nakijin Christian Church Camp, a camp site for servicemember retreats and local Christian church groups.

The Marines, most from Battalion Landing Team 1/5, 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit, did chores including pruning trees, clearing low-hanging branches, sweeping and waxing floors as part of an ongoing community relations project, said Lt. Bruce Vaughan, 38, from Carthage, Mo., the landing team chaplain.

“There are so many things that my husband and I can’t handle by ourselves,” said Mitsuko Kawamitsu, one of the camp’s caretakers. “When people come and help we are very grateful.”

The Marines have been volunteering once or twice a year at the camp since 1997, Vaughan said. Every time a new battalion landing team comes to Okinawa, a cleanup is scheduled, he said.

Sgt. Jesse Dollar’s visit to the camp Wednesday wasn’t his first. The 27-year-old from San Antonio said he volunteered during a 2000 tour to Okinawa and chose to return because “I enjoy volunteering.”

Lance Cpl. Kevin Woods said that, for him, the day was more about getting back to his roots. The 19-year-old from Brownwood, Texas, grew up on a farm and got a sense of accomplishment from helping others at the camp through hard work, he said.

“My job is a lot of training. I like doing manual labor and that includes sawing and shoveling,” he said.

The day was more than a campground cleanup. It was part of the current 31st MEU Marine Expeditionary Unit exercise, Vaughan said.

“Including this … shows the importance the MEU commander places on the community relations aspect of the mission,” he said, especially given the nature of the war on terrorism, in which winning “the hearts and minds of a people” can be as important as seeking and killing an enemy.

“So we put into practice here what we would do in another country,” he said.

Community relations projects also have a positive effect on the attitude of Marines, Vaughan said. The work “reminds Marines that these are people that they are trying to help.”

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