KADENA AIR BASE, Japan –
The 15th Annual Kadena Special Olympics, one of the largest community relations events in Okinawa with more than 1,500 athletes and artists combined, was held at the Risner Fitness Center here Nov. 8.
The event kicked off with an opening ceremony where the athletes heard words of encouragement. Afterward a KSO athlete lit the torch signaling the games to begin.
"Today is a special day for me since my own family has long believed in the importance of the Special Olympics movement," said Caroline Kennedy, ambassador of the United States to Japan. "My Aunt Eunice, the founder of Special Olympics, would be so proud to see all of you here today ready to compete and eager to win because she was a competitor herself."
KSO was first held in 2000 as an avenue to build relations with neighboring communities, while providing a meaningful activity for the special needs children and adults.
"I commend the Japanese government for taking action to build an inclusive society and I commend you athletes for leading the way," said Kennedy. "Special Olympics is about sport and is a vehicle for changing attitudes all over the world and that's what you athletes will do here in Okinawa, change Japan."
More than 2,500 volunteers from different branches of the U.S. military and the local community helped put the KSO together. The volunteers helped with translations, medal presentations, logistical and medical support, and food preparation and distribution.
"As you walk around today, take a look at the athletes we can all learn from them," said Brig. Gen. James B. Hecker, 18th Wing commander. "You'll see the innocence in their face, you'll see their competitive spirit, you'll see the courage that they have and you'll see the way they treat one another. I think we can all learn from our Special Olympians."
Throughout the day, athletes competed in a variety of events, including track and field, soccer, ground golf and tennis. Artists also displayed their art in the gallery held inside the Risner Fitness Center.
"This event is important for two reasons, it is a tremendous outreach and it brings in a group of wonderful adults that have special needs that we can celebrate," said Lt. Gen. Jan-Marc Jouas, commander of the 7th Air Force, Pacific Air Forces. "When you see the smile on the athletes' faces and when they get their medals, it just makes it all the work that went into it worthwhile."
Jouas also serves as the United Nations Command Korea deputy commander, U.S. Forces Korea deputy commander, and Air Component Command Republic of Korea/U.S. Combined Forces Command commander.
Despite the rain throughout the day, everyone gave it their all to make this event memorable. At the end of the day, athletes were proudly displaying their medals and smiling while looking forward to coming back next year.
In closing Lt. Gen. Salvatore Angelella, commander of U.S. Forces Japan and 5th Air Force, said, "I have been watching some of the events and the athletes are just doing fantastic. I am proud of all the volunteers, the people, the private organizations and especially proud the athletes for making this day possible