By Kari Hawkins, USAG RedstoneJuly 22, 2014
REDSTONE ARSENAL, Ala. -- Corrosion issues aren't the only item on the agenda for three Aviation and Missile Command employees when they visit Japan to conduct corrosion reviews, training and remediation.
While their days in Japan may be filled with actions related to corrosion affecting missile systems, Scott Reis, David Busby and Thomas Rogers are known to take a few hours during their off-time to visit a Japanese special needs school in Okinawa.
Reis, a retired chief warrant officer 3, learned about the school -- known as Takashiho-En -- while stationed in Japan in 2007, where he served as a Patriot System technician at Kadena Air Base. During those years, he and his wife were on a bowling league that chose the school as its community project through Army Community Service.
"It is one of the few special needs schools in the Okinawa that doesn't get government funding," Reis said. "They need help because they don't get that funding.
"We helped them decorate for Christmas with trees and lights, and we gave them lots of toys. At Easter, we helped with an Easter egg hunt. My daughter Tyler (who was nine at the time) and two of her friends put candy in over 750 eggs. And we helped celebrate Valentine's Day and Halloween."
Despite the absence of government funding, the school manages to care for 42 special needs men and women who live at the school, 50 who visit the school's support center each day and 35 children with handicaps who attend its juvenile daycare service. The school is self-sustaining through donations and through selling the vegetables and flowers grown in their garden, operating an onsite bakery for local customers, and selling pottery made by its special needs students.
"The purpose of this institution is a disabled person's independence," said the school official Takao "Jimmy" Chinen through a translated email corresponsdence.
"The idea is to help put a smile on their face, and give them a place to learn and have fun. We offer support to help develop the character of each student, and to live a happy life."
When Reis retired in 2009 and settled his family in Huntsville to work for the AMCOM Corrosion Program Office, he didn't forget about the Japanese school. It wasn't long before he had recruited two co-workers -- Busby and veteran Rogers -- to visit the school with him.
"I was assisting Scott with trips back to Okinawa to help with corrosion issues when Scott introduced me to the school," Rogers said.
The two co-workers were eager to help Reis by visiting the special needs school and providing them with items needed by the community of special needs students. They have also brought the students gifts during the holidays.
And, often, the Americans find themselves buying some of the homemade fare offered by the school.
"I bought 80 pieces of pottery," Busby said.
The co-workers talk to the school's students with the help of a Japanese interpreter named Yumi.
"We do the best we can with the language barrier. Even with Yumi with us, we do a lot of bowing," Rogers said.
They don't mind spending their own personal funds on gifts and needed items because doing so brings a smile to the faces of the special needs students. They often give the students treats like chocolate kisses and candy bars along with needed items such as school supplies, paper towels and wet wipes.
"We know what we are doing is going to such a good cause that the price doesn't matter," Rogers said.
"It's fun to say 'Hi!' to the kids and grab some pottery, and walk around the facility," Busby added. "They are just so nice. One thing they tell you over and over is, 'Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.' We just love going out there."
Reis is grateful that his job with AMCOM's Corrosion Project Office has allowed him to continue visiting the school.
"We're trying to make a difference by helping a school that is making a difference in the lives of these special needs students," Reis said. "They're so appreciative of everything we do."
The co-workers like supporting the school because they can see with each visit -- which come about every three months -- how the school helps its students learn to live with their disability and in society.
"The school does a lot to get its students involved in everyday society," Busby added.
The work that Busby, an engineer/technical monitor for the AMCOM Corrosion Program Office, and SAIC contractors Reis and Rogers do in support of the Japanese special needs school is well-known by their co-workers and is supported by their leadership.
"We have some good people working in the AMCOM Corrosion Program Office," said Steve Carr, AMCOM corrosion program manager, "and I am proud of the initiatives that they take to reach out, to help others, and to make a difference in our communities."
Even when those communities are halfway around the world.
Editor's Note: Anyone wanting to help can contact Reis at firstname.lastname@example.org or send items directly to the school at 1047-1, Takashiho, Yomitan-son, Nakagami-gun, Okinawa-ken, Japan.