Living Together, Working Together, Belonging Together
During one's time spent overseas, cultural shock is a feeling anyone may experience. Community relations events are designed to allow that feeling of shock and curiosity to vanish while building strong, community ties with the country that hosts these servicemembers.
Many volunteers say venturing out on comrels is a great way to show Japan, or any nation, the good things military servicemembers can do.
“As long as I have been here, the comrels we have been involved in most have been the Hoikuen visits, which are like pre-school,” said Lt. Cmdr. Denise Wallingford, Marine Aircraft Group 12 Chaplain. “We also do Kintai Bridge cleanups, and those are done almost every month, with various specialty comrels making their way into our schedules from time to time.”
Some specialty comrels are seasonal and others annually. “We do four to six a month, Christmas is a special one when we deliver toys to orphans,” said Logistics Specialist Petty Officer 1st Class Reggie M. Guevarra, Headquarters and Headquarters Squadron Station Comrel Coordinator. “We go out and help children and adults learn English as well as just play with them.”
Given the amount of effort and time required, why do air station personnel do community relations events? Why do they seek the trust and approval of their host nation?
“The impact that comrels have on Japanese nationals is amazing,” said Guevarra. “It shows that Americans have the patience and the spirit to go and help out. We are here to help. We are American ambassadors regardless whether or not we are wearing a uniform. Once we are in a foreign country, we are not here to hate on people. We are here to help and extend our arms out to the community, to help as many people as we can.”
Some volunteers said that when they first started, they found themselves hesitant to participate in community-relations events because they didn't know how to mingle with new people, were afraid to try new things or did not know how much time would be spent on a comrel. But these same volunteers later said the value far exceeded the effort.
"Doing comrels shows our Japanese hosts that we are here to do good things," said Guevarra. "We love helping out the kids, and that shows the adults we care."
Together, the various units aboard Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni conducted more than 365 community relations events in 2012 alone, an average of more than one a day.
“We even do comrels when we are deployed,” said Wallingford.
From cleaning up around Iwakuni, interacting with school children, traveling to Ishinomaki to help rebuild schools or administering disaster relief, servicemembers are here and they want to help, they want to been seen in the light for the good they do.
They don’t do it for money, they don’t do it for fame, they do it because it is right and it is what their military and personal values demand of them, not just uniting them as people, but as two countries working together for mutual benefit.