OKINAWA, Japan (Oct. 25, 2013) -- The lingering effects of Typhoon Francisco could not dampen the spirits U.S. Army personnel on Okinawa who turned out in force to support U.S. Army Garrison Torii Station's Make a Difference Day project on Oct. 25.
The garrison hosted a cleanup at Torii Beach and nearly 100 Soldiers, U.S. and Japanese employees and family members pitched in to pick up debris, clear the sand of rocks and bag up palm fronds. Volunteers worked their way down Torii Beach and continued into Sobe Ward in Yomitan Village, making this a true community effort.
The USO provided a free pancake breakfast complete with coffee and hot chocolate to all volunteers from a variety of Army units, including 10th Regional Support Group, 247th Military Police Detachment, 349th Signal Company, 1-1 Special Forces Battalion and USAG Torii Station.
For more than 20 years, USA WEEKEND Magazine and Points of Light have joined together to sponsor Make a Difference Day, the largest national day of community service. Millions of volunteers around the world unite in a common mission to improve the lives of others, and this was the first project of its kind hosted by USAG Torii Station.
This year's volunteer project on Torii Station was the brainchild of Garrison Commander Lt. Col. Eric A. Martinez, who has been participating in Make a Difference Day projects for many years. It is an endeavor that has been near and dear to his heart since he became involved with the campaign during a previous assignment in Oklahoma City.
"What made this event so successful was the great group of Soldiers and employees working together to make a difference in both the garrison and local communities," said Lt. Col. Martinez. "Volunteering promotes a good quality of life and I thank all the volunteers and their leaders for making it happen."
Many of the Soldiers who volunteer do so for a variety of reasons, including taking care of one of the garrison's most important recreational assets.
"I volunteered this morning to help clean up Torii Beach, it was an outstanding event. It's a way to give back to the community," said Florida native Master Sgt. Andre F. Gary, who is a communications non-commissioned officer in charge with 10th Regional Support Group. "I know I am going to use the beach and other people may not take care of things the way they should so, it's good to go help clean up an area I know I am going to use."
The beach cleanup on Torii Station is one of many community service projects that Army personnel on Okinawa have been involved with this year. In June, dozens of Soldiers and their families volunteered for a weekend cleanup project in Toguchi Ward in Yomitan Village. Also this summer, Soldiers from the 349th Signal Company hosted a beach picnic on Torii Station for students from a local preschool, in addition to providing support to the Kobato Summer Festival in Yomitan Village.
Just in time for school to start this year, Soldiers who participate in the Better Opportunity for Single Soldiers program painted a bus stop outside the front gate of Torii Station.
Events such as the Make a Difference Day project are a win-win for the Army and local communities as they provide opportunities for people from all walks of life to join in and work toward a common goal of making a difference.
"I would encourage others to volunteer for events like this in the future, it was a good time. I helped clean up the beach by pulling weeds out of the planters, it was amazing how many weeds we pulled -- we filled 15 trash bags," said Tennessee native Spec. Joseph P. Johnson, who is a Sustainment Automation Support Management desk specialist with 10th Regional Support Group. "It's important to make a place better than you found it."
Capt. Sonie L. Munson is from Nebraska and serves as the public affairs officer for the 10th Regional Support Group. She arrived in Okinawa earlier this year and feels fortunate to be stationed here.
"The first place I saw when I came to Torii Station was the beach and I instantly fell in love with the post. When you love something you should take care of it so when I heard about the service project I wanted to help," said Munson. "I came to help clean up and when we were getting organized into crews, I jumped at the opportunity to help the USO make pancakes to thank all the volunteers. Making pancakes was a way to say thank you to everyone for taking care of a place that holds a lot of fond family memories for me."