YAGAJI, Okinawa — Lance Cpl. William Linn made his first trip to the Ai Rakuen community here in 1975 to volunteer his time. He was apprehensive and a little scared of volunteering at what was once referred to as the national leprosy sanitarium, but he quickly learned there was nothing to be afraid of.

Fast forward 30 years and you can find now-Master Gunnery Sgt. Linn still making trips here. Since he first came to Okinawa, Marines working at the Camp Hansen brig regularly have traveled nearly an hour north to the compound to volunteer their time.

Linn has spent three tours working at the brig, most recently as the supervisor, and each time personnel from the facility have traveled to Ai Rakuen several times a year. He said groups of 10 to 15 Marines take trips to clean up the beaches there several times a year.

“They readily volunteer to come,” Linn said. While some of the new Marines may be as apprehensive as he once was, he said the troops are told that the disease is not contagious so they have nothing to worry about.

While in prior years the Marines cleaned the grounds and played games with residents, they now primarily clean the beach surrounding the property, said Chief Warrant Officer 3 Michael R. Swinton, brig commanding officer. Swinton, who also volunteered at Ai Rakuen when he was a corporal in 1987, said the Marines spend an entire day at the compound when they travel there.

For the years of continued support, the community recently presented the Marines from the brig with a certificate of appreciation. Takeshi Mukaizato, deputy counselor of the Ai Rakuen Association, said community residents and workers are grateful for the years of service the Marines have provided.

“[The] Marine Corps Brig staff has dedicated for many years to clean our beach as one of your volunteer activities,” the certificate read. “You improved our environment with great human love as an Ai Rakuen’s neighbor. It gives us a more comfortable life.”

Taking Marines to the community is important, Swinton said, as it not only clears up misconceptions about the disease, but also teaches the Marines to be active in the community.

“It’s nothing more than reaching out to fellow humans,” Swinton said. “The Marines enjoy it and the community enjoys having us. We need to share and take care of each other, whether we’re American or Japanese.”

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