CAMP ZAMA, Japan – Members of Camp Zama’s Better Opportunities for Single Soldiers organization and the Japan Ground Self-Defense Force teamed up to clean up a historic park here May 27 in honor of Earth Day.
Although they work on the same installation, this was the first time BOSS and JGSDF members had worked together on a community improvement project, said Sgt. Jennifer Jackson, a preventative medicine specialist for Public Health Activity – Japan and BOSS president.
“It’s definitely something that we plan on continuing,” Jackson said. “We definitely want to keep those relations with Japan and our U.S. forces together.”
About 40 people participated in the project, which resulted in the collection of nearly 70 bags of vegetation debris and a pile of downed tree branches, ready for disposal at the end of the two-hour event. BOSS, which has chapters throughout the Army, helps single and unaccompanied Soldiers by providing recreational and volunteer activities.
Command Sgt. Maj. Billy Norman, U.S. Army Garrison Japan command sergeant major and Camp Zama BOSS senior enlisted adviser; Randy Benton, special events coordinator for Camp Zama’s Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation and Camp Zama BOSS MWR adviser; and Lucinda Ward, Camp Zama school liaison officer, also helped.
Norman, with a Japanese interpreter, kicked off the event by thanking everyone for volunteering to clean up the historic area of Camp Zama, which once featured part of the former Japanese Imperial Military Academy and now includes the stone Otakebi torii and six monuments.
“Hopefully this is the first of a lot of good events that we do to get out in the community, even off post,” Norman said.
Pvt. Jasmine Jones, a BOSS member assigned to the 35th Combat Sustainment Support Battalion, said she had fun working alongside her Japanese counterparts.
“It was really good working with them,” Jones said. “They understood us and we got the job done.”
Sgt. 1st Class Mitsuki Sato, assigned to the Bilateral Coordination Department, Japan Ground Self-Defense Force, said the event was a great opportunity for both groups to get to know each other better.
“Even though our methods for cleaning up the park were slightly different, we had the same goal overall,” Sato said. “I believe that if we interact more and learn more about each other, we can deepen our mutual understating of each other and strengthen our friendship even more.”
For example, one of the U.S. Soldiers was wearing a T-shirt printed with Japanese animation, so Sato asked him about the shirt and how long he plans to stay in Japan.
“This was a great opportunity to deepen our mutual understanding and friendship, so hopefully they will continue this type of event,” Sato said.
Jones said that in addition to befriending the Japanese soldiers, she also enjoyed getting to know some of her U.S. counterparts.
“I felt like it brought everybody together, all the different units, because we don’t see them every day and [we have] different ranks,” Jones said. “We’re always in uniform, so for them, being outside of uniform and being able to interact with us on the civilian side, it was different. It was a good experience.”
Jones said that although she recently arrived in Japan in January, BOSS has already helped her feel at home.
“We haven’t had many events because of the whole COVID-19 [situation], but so far as a community it’s helped us become a little bit stronger and work together and try to make it better,” Jones said.
Jackson said she wants BOSS members to spread the word about the program, because with COVID-19 restrictions in place and single and unaccompanied Soldiers being far away from their families, it is important to bond as a community and keep everyone uplifted.
This was the first BOSS event with COVID-19 restrictions, and she was proud of how it went, Jackson said.
“Soldiers had masks on and just tried to be socially distanced as much as possible,” Jackson said. “It’s a park, so I definitely think [social distancing is] something we achieved today.”