HENOKO, Okinawa, Japan -- “It never gets old,” said Petty Officer 3rd Class Matthew R. Minteer, corpsman with Combat Logistics Battalion 31, 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit. “I could visit 100 places like this and get the same satisfaction as I do today.”
Marines and Sailors from CLB-31, 31st MEU spent the first day of their Christmas liberty period visiting residents of the Nagomi Nursing Home for Children here, Dec. 22.
Acting as a home and school for children under the age of 18, the nursing facility has approximately 30 children in its care. Children have fallen under the facility’s care for a wide number of reasons, ranging from insufficient parental support to abandonment. Tucked away near the Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology, the 14-year-old home offers on-site elementary to high school-grade teachers, helping the children live as normal lives as they can.
“Once they are 18, they are required to go out and make a life of their own, so we help them as much as we can before then,” said Dai Shimabukuro, head care giver of the Nagomi Nursing Home for Children. “We educate them and help them look for job opportunities and places to live, but they rarely have outside visitors to play and socialize with.
That’s where the CLB-31 personnel come in. After building a good relationship with the home, Navy LT Kyu Lee, command chaplain for CLB-31, was given the opportunity to bring servicemembers and spend a day with the children. Many Marines and Sailors jumped at the opportunity.
“Those that choose to do nothing but drink and party make up a small part of the overall American presence on Okinawa,” said Lee, a native of San Diego, Calif. “Part of who they are is helping others no matter the sacrifice, and one day of their free time is negligible when they’re visiting local Okinawan children.”
Aside from playing with the children, the Toys for Tots charity donated 40 toys to the home. Additionally, the volunteers and kids shared a barbeque lunch, enjoying hamburgers, hot dogs, drinks and cupcakes.
The 31st MEU often conducts community relations projects similar to this event while deployed throughout the Asia-Pacific region, visiting orphanages, painting schools and cleaning up trash.
“You can never do enough of these, because it always helps someone and positively impacts them for life,” said Minteer, a native of Tampa, Fla. “The smiles on their faces when we come to play is better than any present we can give, and it’s always a great feeling to do it.”
The 31st MEU is the only continuously forward-deployed MEU and is the Marine Corps’ force in readiness in the Asia-Pacific region.