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YOKOSUKA NAVAL BASE, Japan — Kids pressed up against the window Thursday watching the playground grow in the jungle around Shiroyama Childrens’ Home.

The home, called an orphanage by the Americans, is isolated in the mountains about two hours from Yokosuka Naval Base. Wild monkeys live in the trees, giving a literal spin on the “monkey bars” being built.

“People are going to wonder, ‘How did they get this thing up here?’ when it’s all finished,” said Master Chief Petty Officer Larry Larkin. “I’ll tell them, ‘One or two pieces at a time.’”

Larkin is coordinating the Afloat Training Group volunteer project that is bringing a large, American-style playground complex to Shirohama’s 50 young residents.

“We can see the kids watching us work out the window — and I think I heard some of them say ‘hurry’ in Japanese,” said U.S. Navy Chief Petty Officer Kenneth Billups. “We’ll try not to keep them waiting too long.”

Volunteers have been going to the home once or twice a week since May 25 to complete the work by July, they said.

“We want to leave the kids something they’ll enjoy,” said Larkin. “Beyond that, we want to give them a good impression of the Americans and military. With all that’s happened here in the community, we hope that other commands will do projects like this.”

The Afloat Training Group command has been undertaking activities at Shiroyama for eight years — mostly along the lines of Christmas parties, landscaping and minor repair jobs, Larkin said.

But this large-scale task offered large-size challenges, he said.

“We started talking about this in October last year when we found out the base had a new playground set they weren’t going to use,” Larkin said.

The set, worth more than $20,000, was in line to be scrapped as there was no place to put it and no building instructions, Larkin said.

Getting legal permission to build it took another eight months and a stack of blessings — including one from the U.S. Embassy.

But the playground company airmailed new instructions and Larkin rounded up some volunteers, who are dedicated to seeing the project through, he said.

Petty Officer 1st Class Robert Hawkins says these kids are special and any work he does at the home goes a long way.

“Usually, kids get something new, they play with it for a while and then get sick of it,” Hawkins said. “We put in a basketball court at Shiroyama, and every time we’re there those kids are playing on it. That’s why I know this playground is such a good project.”


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