CAMP ZAMA, Japan – Since 2013, an annual internship program here has given more than 100 Japanese college students the chance to work in an Army environment, and two former participants took the next step and are now full-time employees here.
Nagisa Ishikawa and Ayane Sato, both participants in the U.S. Army Garrison Japan-led program during the summer of 2017, each had different paths that led them to the opportunity. But they each said the positive experiences they had as interns motivated them to return to be part of the Camp Zama team.
Ishikawa, an administrative specialist assigned to the Engineer Device branch at the Directorate of Public Works, first experienced Camp Zama as a child. She often attended open-post events here with her family, which was her introduction to the installation and which eventually led to her interest as a high school student to want to work here.
When she joined the intern program, Ishikawa was assigned to work at DPW. She said she was initially both “very excited and nervous,” but those feelings very quickly changed to full-on enjoyment as she learned more about DPW’s operations, got to know the people she worked with, and accomplished her daily tasks.
She called it an eye-opening experience getting to work in an environment where employees and their supervisors were able to freely and openly voice their opinions. Attending meetings where many items were discussed in quick succession made her realize she would need to improve her English skills if she wanted to join the discussion and to express herself, she said.
Another encouraging discovery Ishikawa made was when she saw how large a percentage of the workforce on a U.S. military installation was made up of Japanese employees. Seeing Soldiers, Department of the Army Civilians and local nationals who all came from varied backgrounds but who embraced those differences and still worked together to accomplish the mission was inspiring, she said.
“I felt like individuality and diversity are respected here and are used as a strength to exist as one team,” Ishikawa said. “The internship program helped me gain a great deal of understanding ... and helped me realize I definitely wanted to pursue my original goal of working here.”
During the program, Ishikawa found a mentor in Naoko Koh, an administrative officer at DPW. It was inspiring to see the way Koh effectively managed her duties and to hear the story of how she reached this point in her career, Ishikawa said.
“My mentor told me to always give my all, and people would surely notice the hard work I am doing, and [through that], a new opportunity may land in front of you,” Ishikawa said.
During her time as an intern, Ishikawa was always willing to try any task assigned to her without being afraid of making mistakes, Koh said. The young mentee asked questions without hesitation and asked for help if needed, she said.
Koh said she could tell at the time that Ishikawa was enjoying herself and that she had a clear intention to not only come back to work on Camp Zama, but at DPW specifically. When it eventually happened, Ishikawa’s integration into the DPW team was very quick because of the many existing professional relationships she had established there, Koh said.
“It was amazing to see an intern become a colleague and to see her achieve her goal,” Koh said.
Ishikawa’s passion for her work reminds Koh of when she first started working on Camp Zama, she said. She said she sees herself as a sort of mother figure to the young employee, and has never stopped wishing for her success and giving her advice on ways to build good working relationships with those around her.
“I’m very grateful to my mentor, who made my experience [as an intern] fruitful and meaningful, and who also made my transition from intern to employee go so smoothly,” Ishikawa said.
Her job as an administrative specialist fits her well, Ishikawa said, but she is also very appreciative of the DPW engineers who sometimes invite her to construction site visits to broaden her knowledge and help her gain a better understanding of a variety of projects and the work that goes into them.
Experiences like these at her job, she said, underscore what USAG Japan staff told her and the other interns at the start of their program, that it would provide them with work experience that other students could likely not get elsewhere.
Sato, a traffic analyst assigned to the G4 Transportation Division, U.S. Army Japan, was a freshman in college when her father encouraged her to apply for the internship. Because she had no idea what a U.S. military base was like, Sato said she was initially thinking of excuses not to sign up. But then she thought that even if she tried and did not excel in the program, it would at least be a beneficial learning experience.
When Sato began her internship with the Directorate of Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation, the intimidating experience of being in a new environment and having to communicate largely in English made her extremely nervous, she said. But everyone she worked with on the MWR team was warm and welcoming, which allowed her to relax and enjoy the experience of working in such a unique environment, she said.
“While interning, I felt like this would be a once-in-a-lifetime experience,” Sato said.
By the end of the program, Sato was having so much fun that she didn’t want it to end. To her surprise—and delight—MWR offered her an extension, which she gladly accepted. After her internship, she kept in touch with many of the MWR employees with whom she worked, and they even invited her back to the base to attend various events.
Upon graduating from college, Sato worked briefly for a realtor company. But the more time she spent there, the more she realized how much she enjoyed working on Camp Zama. She accepted a temporary position on Sagami General Depot to try and “get her foot in the door,” always on the lookout for job openings for a permanent position, she said.
“My internship experience not only stayed in my heart, it got bigger and finally brought me back,” Sato said. “But if it wasn’t for the people I worked with along the way, I wouldn’t be here now.”
Marenzo Domingo, the MWR marketing manager, was Sato’s supervisor when she was an intern. He said he was happy to see her return as an employee, adding that he was not surprised she achieved her goal of coming back.
“I was very impressed with the work she was accomplishing and with her dedication to the job,” Domingo said, remembering Sato’s interning days.
The intern program is a valuable opportunity for all the participants to see and understand what every employee on the installation offers the Soldiers and family members here, he said.
“It’s a great opportunity for the intern students to see our Soldiers and Army Civilians in action, accomplishing the mission together,” Domingo said.
Like Ishikawa, Sato has a mentor who has helped advise her in her new role as a full-time employee. Harumi Ueno, a fellow traffic analyst, said Sato began working right around the time USARJ was participating in a large military exercise, which meant a high operational tempo for their section. Though she was new, Sato was “very eager to learn about everything that was being throwing at her,” and has been a great help for the office since her arrival, Ueno said.
“Sato reminded me of myself at the beginning of my career,” Ueno said. “The experience of having a former intern under my guidance gave me a sense of responsibility to prepare the next generation of employees here.”
Sato said she knows she still has a lot to learn about her job, but she wants to be ready to mentor someone in the future, just as she has benefited from it.
“It all started with the internship program providing me with the opportunity to gain insight on what it is like to work on a U.S. base,” Sato said. “I am very grateful to everyone who helped me get where I am now.
“What I can tell future intern applicants is to apply for the program without being afraid, give your all, and you will gain more experience than you imagined,” she added. “It will definitely help you in the long run no matter where you work, because it helps broaden your knowledge and enhance skill sets that you wouldn’t get elsewhere.”
For the first time during last summer’s program, Ishikawa got to take on the role of mentor herself, guiding a young student who was likely as nervous as she was six years ago.
“It was a pretty incredible experience for me to become a mentor to someone, knowing how much I looked up to my mentor,” Ishikawa said. “I want to make sure interns who get assigned to DPW in the future will enjoy their time here as much as I did.”