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NEWS | Dec. 9, 2014

US Soldiers Serve Japanese Communities

By Staff Sgt. Adam Keith 19th Public Affairs Detachment

Sumo wrestling with children and pulverizing rice with a hammer are not your average community service projects – unless you’re in Japan.

U.S. service members joined their Japanese counterparts Dec. 5 for a series of community service events during the run-up to Yama Sakura, an annual bi-lateral command post exercise between Japan and the U.S.

“There’s sometimes a sense separation between service members and the community surrounding a base,” said Sgt. Maj. Gotada Mamoru, with the Japan Ground Self-Defense Force Eastern Army. “We do outreach activities like this one to bring the Japanese people closer to their military. Including our U.S. allies in these events helps build a sense of trust and partnership with the Japanese people.”

One group of service members visited “Smile Studio,” a facility that provides job training and employment opportunities for the mentally handicapped. There they tried their hand at Mochitsuki – the Japanese traditional method of pounding steamed rice into paste with a large hammer to make rice cakes.

Another group had the slightly more dangerous task of facing off against a nursery full of excited Japanese children in sumo wrestling matches.

“I really didn’t know what to expect or how the kids were going to receive us, but they were all smiling and really excited when we got there,” said Sgt. 1st Class Chris Lee, Headquarters and Headquarters Battalion, I Corps. “I have an 18-month-old back home who I miss, so I was looking forward to coming out and spending time with the children here.”

The service members visiting the nursery also sang Christmas carols and exchanged gifts with the children. The children received tiny stuffed animals. The service members received necklaces made by the children.

Many of the Americans in in attendance found the impact of the visits surprising.

“I think it’s great when they get to see that we come not just with the ability to bring a fight to an enemy but also to care for people,” said Sgt. 1st Class Luis Jaramillo, HHB, I Corps. “They can see us out of our uniform and not conducting a military exercise. They can see us as people with feelings, emotions and families of our own.”

Lee said the service project was one of many cultural events he hoped to attend during his time in Japan.

“I think getting out and experiencing their culture and sharing yours is one of the most important things when participating in an exercise like this,” said Lee. “Experiencing that friendship when building a bond is very important; it’s team building on another level.”

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