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Sailors from the Yokosuka, Japan-based USS John S. McCain help dig out a school for the mentally challenged Tuesday in the city of Otaru on Japan's northern island of Hokkaido. The McCain completed a scheduled port visit to the city this week.

Sailors from the Yokosuka, Japan-based USS John S. McCain help dig out a school for the mentally challenged Tuesday in the city of Otaru on Japan's northern island of Hokkaido. The McCain completed a scheduled port visit to the city this week. (Courtesy of the American Consulate General in Sapporo)

Sailors from the USS John S. McCain paid a visit last week to Japan’s northern island of Hokkaido, where they played a game of hoops with high school students and helped dig out a school for the mentally challenged from more than 6 feet of snow.

The stop in Otaru, Japan, a coastal city about 1½ hours north of Sapporo, was part of a scheduled port visit, according to 7th Fleet spokesman Chief Petty Officer Rick Chernitzer.

“The crew always enjoys opportunities to visit cities such as Otaru, and to experience the different regions of Japan, which is one of America’s closest allies,” Chernitzer said in a written statement.

The McCain, with 300 crewmembers on board, arrived Feb. 5 to begin four days of goodwill meetings, receptions and community-service activities, said a spokeswoman with the American Consulate General in Sapporo, which coordinated the ship’s community outreach events in Otaru.

Their activities included a visit to Hokkaido International School, where the ship’s basketball team, known as the “McCain Men,” held a clinic for 12 members of the high-school boys’ basketball team. The sailors and students also formed mixed teams and played a round robin half-court tournament and full-court championship game, according to the consulate spokeswoman, who said the students had anxiously awaited the ship team’s visit because it offered them a rare opportunity to hone their skills.

“It was a good experience,” said Hokkaido school team captain Ian Grose. “They are fast, strong, and big, unlike the Japanese students we usually play. We had to really focus.”

A group of 25 enlisted sailors and officers from the McCain also helped remove snow from the roof and grounds of Wako Gakuen, a school for the mentally challenged. In some places, snow had accumulated to more than 6 feet and was partially blocking windows.

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Jennifer reports on the U.S. military from Kaiserslautern, Germany, where she writes about the Air Force, Army and DODEA schools. She’s had previous assignments for Stars and Stripes in Japan, reporting from Yokota and Misawa air bases. Before Stripes, she worked for daily newspapers in Wyoming and Colorado. She’s a graduate of the College of William and Mary in Virginia.
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