I spent the last few weeks thinking about writing what life is like over here, working with Marines and Sailors and being a civilian in my other strange new culture known as the US Marine Corps.
Before I go into too much here let me say that I will not be posting pictures of the base except for the top one since we are not encouraged to photograph buildings or many things at all on base. There are wonderful websites set up where you can see all sorts of fabulous pictures of Camp Foster. Here is the USMC official website for Camp Butler – http://www.mcbbutler.marines.mil/Camps/CampFoster.aspx. There is also a facebook page – https://www.facebook.com/pages/Camp-Foster-Okinawa-Japan/175246482602518
Upon arrival at Camp Butler way back in September…it seems so very long ago now, I had to learn that not only was I in a foreign country where I could not speak or read the language, I was also in a strange new world (to me at least) of the Marine Culture where I could read the language, but had no idea what it means!
I have to tell you, I did not hold great respect for the Marines before I took this job. I felt that since my dad was in the Navy, it was the best of the services. I never really thought about the Marine Corps all that much.
So the first thing is where the heck is Camp Butler? This is a pretty common question as there is Camp Foster (my main base – actually across a vacant lot and Route 58 from my house), Camp Hansen, Camp Kinser, Camp Lester, Camp Schwab, Futenma, Camp Gonsalves, Kadena Air Force Base, Torii Station (Army Base), White Beach (Navy) and probably one or two others that I am forgetting. Nowhere does it say Camp Butler. It is nowhere, it is everywhere…Camp Butler is the entire group of Marine bases on the island.
So when we first got here we had this lovely orientation process where they told us where to go, where not to go. What to stay away from: habu (venomous snakes), a myriad of water creatures (including sea snakes), wild boars (there are signs in the North that read – ‘Caution- Animal’ with a cute drawing of a boar), unexploded munitions left over from the Typhoon of Steel that we unleashed on this island in 1945 and many, many places in Naha.
So these were the little things that they tell civilians and Marines alike about life over here. What no one tells civilians who have never worked on a military base is there is an entirely different culture that you are expected to understand as if through osmosis by staying a few days at the Westpac Lodge .
So, at 7:55 a.m. everyday there are these loud announcements over speakers that you can hear in my house on the weekends – ‘first call, first call’. At 8 a.m. every day there is the Star Spangled Banner, followed by Kimigayo, the Japanese National Anthem. If you’ve never spent any time on a military base, which I hadn’t, this particular event took me by surprise the first time I witnessed it. Everything stops…I mean everything. Cars, work, if you’re walking…it reminds me of red light/green light when we were kids. You stop what you’re doing, face toward the speakers and listen. It’s really awesome when you think about it. I was driving the other day when it came on and we all just put on our flashers and stopped. And when it’s over, everything goes into motion again…something to behold.
Chow time is sacred! 11-1300 are times that will be observed daily. Never ever let a Marine go hungry. That is not something you want to experience, make sure they have their food! I keep Clif Bars in desk just in case.
Some of the other things that took me by surprise is how restricted Marines are over here in comparison to the other branches of service. They don’t complain, they just put their heads down and get through it. There is pride in the hardness of their life. I spoke to someone who was a Marine in his youth (and will always be) and he was telling me a story of when he was young and out on the town. He was telling a story of how he met his wife who at first wasn’t interested in him and he said, ‘how could she not want me? There is nothing harder than a Marine!’
These young men and women are amazing to me. They choose a life where hardship and courage are every day things to them. These people do not just say the word Marine, it is something they earned going through the Crucible in boot camp. It has a meaning for them. There is an accountability and a bond to each other that I have never seen before. I frequently hear Marines say, ‘my Marines’ when talking and the sense that they are responsible to each other.
Every day I drive on base and see groups of Marines, sounding off, running with packs, running with things in their hands or just plain old running. The physical demands of Marines are much more intense than the Army, Air Force or Navy. These Marines are expected to run three miles in about 18-20 minutes to be considered in good Marines. I ran for about 26 years off and on and I can tell you, on my best day I never did a six minute mile. The fastest I ever ran was about 7 1/2 and I thought I was going to die. Their dive bomber push ups leave me in awe. I just stop (as if the Star Spangled Banner is playing) and watch their perfect form.
One of the funniest things I see on a routine basis is one or two Army guys ( I know they’re Army because they have on t-shirts that say “ARMY”) and they are running around Camp Foster. But I would know they’re not Marines by the look of their bodies, no one looks like a Marine, except for a Marine (and my Sensei John Eccles, he looks like a Marine). They always look paranoid and are looking around them all the time. I always wonder if they did something bad to get sent over to the Marine base. They have this stricken look on their faces like some Marine is going to come and do something to them!
And they have these wonderful expressions, my favorite one is ‘this, that and a third’…and anything with f*!k…they like that word a lot!
They are polite, open doors and always greet you with a good morning, good afternoon or good evening Ma’am.
I enjoy going by the barbershop in the Exchange Annex and seeing them get hair cuts on a Sunday afternoon while they watch whatever sports are playing on Armed Forces Network.
I guess I’m just saying that these are really quality individuals who put themselves out there for us day in and day out. Being a Marine is not just a word, it is something noble. I am so thankful that I have had the opportunity to be here and become a part of it. That the Marines exist to go put their lives and mental well being on the line everyday. I can say that no job has ever given me the satisfaction this one has, or the feeling that what I am doing does make a difference.
So on holidays or whenever you see something that gives you an opportunity to reach out to them…take it. They miss the U.S. in a tangible way. If you know someone over here or in a different part of the world, learn the time difference and talk to them, they need it. If you see something where you can write a letter or send a card, do it…often they need it.
Now that photo up on the top is of the old US Naval Hospital on Camp Lester, about a 1/2 mile from Camp Foster. In 1951 JFK was visiting Okinawa and had fallen ill with a high fever. He was taken here because they thought he might die. It was an Army hospital then and they nursed him back to health on our little sweet island. US Ambassador to Japan Caroline Kennedy came here in 2014 to see the place.
So, I bought a little Honda Today scooter today…next week I’ll have some fun photos to share, and maybe some adventures. I will leave you with a short video from the Sega gaming place I stopped into today.
Have a great week!