MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP PENDLETON, Calif. -- “Out of all the different paths I could have taken this is the best one. At the end of the day it’s not where you ended, but how you got there,” said Cpl. Abigail V. Reynolds.
Reynolds, a landing support specialist with Combat Logistics Regiment 27, 2nd Marine Logistics Group, Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune, N.C., has proven to be a valuable asset to the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit as an interpreter between U.S. Marines and soldiers with the Japan Ground Self-Defense Force during Exercise Iron Fist 2014.
Iron Fist is an amphibious exercise that brings together Marines and sailors from the 15th MEU, other I Marine Expeditionary Force units, and soldiers from the JGSDF, to promote military interoperability and hone individual and small-unit skills through challenging, complex and realistic training.
“She’s been great throughout this entire exercise,” said Gunnery Sgt. Rob Turek, platoon sergeant, 2nd Platoon, Bravo Company, 1st Reconnaissance Battalion. “Usually there is some confusion, but not this year.”
Reynolds wasn’t always able to speak Japanese with such ease, but she has been fascinated with the culture for most of her life.
What started as a passion for doodling Japanese cartoons, flourished into a rewarding life filled with adventure and service to country and Corps for Reynolds.
“I used to wake up when I was four years-old and sit on my dad’s lap and start watching Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and X-Men,” said Reynolds as she laughed. “As I grew older, we kept finding new cartoons to watch and eventually led into Dragon Ball Z and other cartoons that originated from Japan, and I fell in love with the culture.”
At age 10, she demonstrated a passion for drawing characters from the cartoons she had grown to love. At 16, she decided to give into her passion and travel to Japan with the goal of being a cartoonist.
“I’m a very spiritual person and I prayed about [my decision to move to Japan],” said Reynolds, a 25 year-old from Apex, N.C. “There was an urge and signs that all pointed me in that direction. I just felt like this is what I needed to do.”
After speaking with a pastor, who had recently returned from missionary work in Japan, Reynolds saw this as an opportunity to make a difference while getting an education.
“The plan was to go there to learn the language with the hopes of continuing my education there at a four-year university to study art,” Reynolds said.
In 2007, with the full support of her family and parish, she began raising funds to attend the Shinjuku Gyoen Gakuin Academy to learn the Japanese language and culture.
“I was just amazed at how many people wanted to help make my dream a reality,” Reynolds said. “People did whatever they could.”
After a year of hard work and fundraising, Reynolds eagerly landed in Japan.
“I was 19 and it was the first time living away from my parents, so I was honestly really naive at the time,” Reynolds said as she recalled her first experience in Japan. “But I was just really happy to be there.”
For the first six months, Reynolds struggled to communicate with the people of Tokyo, but managed to turn those hardships into fond memories.
“I remember my first time going to buy laundry soap with a friend, but I didn’t know the word for laundry soap,” Reynolds said. “So I went to the front counter and tried to ask a lady at the counter. I knew the word for soap, but not laundry soap. So I’m there saying soap and then making swishing noises and turning my body like a washing machine. Eventually we figured it out, but that’s how it was and they’re great memories now.”
Unfortunately, in 2008, Reynolds received heartbreaking news that impacted her future in Japan. As a result of the recession, her father was laid off by his employer.
“It was hard news to take in,” Reynolds said. “Any support I got monthly from my family just went out the window.”
Reynolds had managed to earn some extra income by working as an English tutor, but not nearly enough to cover rent and food. Despite not fully knowing the language, she was able to find work in a few locations.
“It wasn’t easy. Their economy was also struggling, and work was not easy to come by,” Reynolds said.
The hardest reality for Reynolds was that she would no longer be able to attend a four-year university after her language school.
“I had fallen in love with the culture and the country,” Reynolds said. “It was hard to keep my motivation going knowing that I wouldn’t be able to finish my education as planned.”
Reynolds made the most of the rest of her time in Japan though, and after two years she returned home with a heavy heart and a wealth of knowledge.
“I grew up while I was out there,” Reynolds said. “I learned that if I’m going to chase after my dreams and be independent, I can’t rely on anyone to make it happen. I also reaffirmed my spiritual beliefs and learned how Christ works in other cultures.”
After returning home, Reynolds worked at a few jobs, but never lost her drive to return to Japan. If she was going to return, she would need to mature.
“I knew the Marine Corps was the best place for me to do it, so I swore in and in October 2011 I shipped off to boot camp,” Reynolds said.
While in boot camp at Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island, S.C., Reynolds took advantage of her second language and passed the Defense Language Proficiency Test. As an incentive for her knowledge of a second language, the Corps pays her an additional $200 a month.
“The money is nice, but the most rewarding aspect has been what I’ve been able to do with it,” Reynolds said. “Knowledge is power, having the knowledge of the Japanese language and culture has enabled me to have a really unique experience in the Marine Corps. It gives me opportunities that I wouldn’t have gotten anywhere else.”
This is Reynolds’ third exercise working as an interpreter between U.S. Marines and the JGSDF. She was first tasked to be an interpreter in 2013 for Exercise Iron Fist. Her superiors were impressed with her skills and she was brought out again for Exercise Dawn Blitz 2013.
“I’m very fortunate to have the opportunity to be out here,” Reynolds said. “I hope they keep bringing me out.”
Although Reynolds has enjoyed the experience and time in the Corps, she is still set on returning to Japan and finishing her bachelor’s degree in illustration.
“Thanks to the Marine Corps I’m closer to achieving my dream,” Reynolds said. “I have my [associate of arts degree] and I’m one year away from my bachelor’s, but my goal is still to go back and finish what I started.”