CAMP ZAMA, Japan (April 30, 2019) -- Sgt. Alexander Figueroa, newly stationed in Japan, recently got to help plant an actual tree along with local elementary students, but the experience also helped take root a meaningful connection to his new host country.

Figueroa, assigned to the 38th Air Defense Artillery Brigade at Sagami General Depot, Japan, greeted 60 students and faculty from LCA Kokusai Elementary School near the installation April 24 as they arrived for a bilateral friendship event in celebration of Earth Day.

"This experience was definitely worth it," said Figueroa, who arrived in Japan a little more than a month ago. "I would definitely do this again."

The purpose of the event, in addition to promoting conservation and cleaning the environment, was to allow the Soldiers and the Japanese students the chance to get to know and understand each other better by spending time together, said Sgt. 1st Class David Allred, assigned to the 38th ADA Bde., who helped organize the event.

The event began with a tree-planting ceremony in front of the 38th ADA headquarters, in which Soldiers first lowered the young tree into the hole. Then a Kokusai student, surrounded by classmates, shoveled soil into the hole. This served as both a tribute to Earth Day, as well as a symbol of friendship between the Soldiers and their young visitors, Allred said.

Afterward, the group went to a gym to play dodgeball, basketball and other games. That was followed by lunch, where the Soldiers sat with the students and shared conversation as they ate.

"I enjoyed mingling with the students, especially while connecting with them during lunch," said Figueroa.

At the end of the event, many of the Kokusai students told him they did not want to leave, said Allred.

"I think it went really well," said Allred. "We had a lot of fun."

Soma Kosaka, 8, said his favorite activity of the day was getting to play dodgeball with the Soldiers and his classmates.

"[At first,] I thought [the Soldiers would be] scary, but they are not scary; they are polite and nice to others," said Soma.

Nanatsu Yamaguchi, 8, said she enjoyed talking to and playing with the Soldiers, and realized the Soldiers liked to have fun just like her.

"They can enjoy [this event] with us, and it is fun when we were doing [activities) together," said Nanatsu.