So far on our journey we’ve visited an Air Force base (Yakota AB), an army post (Camp Zama) and a naval base (Yokosuka Naval Base). Although they’re all run with the military precision we’ve come to expect on this tour, they each had their own distinct feel, as if each branch of service has its own culture. Today, we visited yet another location in the picture puzzle that makes up the U.S. military presence in Japan. MCAS Iwakuni, located in southern Japan, is a small marine base with about 5,000 people (including families). We arrived after visiting Hiroshima’s Peace Park, a somber and sobering experience right in the heart of the city.
Being at Hiroshima’s ground zero on December 6 (just a few days before the anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor), was a fascinating addition to the visit. Japanese students amassed in the park with their teachers and tour guides, reading about the A-bomb blast, and initially I worried if our presence would be unwelcome. In fact, the Japanese students cheered when they saw the Marlins players arrive, scrambling to take photos with them and the Mermaids while displaying peace signs and enormous, happy grins.
After visiting the memorial, we traveled to MCAS Iwakuni, where we met some of the warmest and most friendly people we’ve come across to date. We participated in physical training (aka physical torture – ha!) with Marine Wing Support Squadron 171, where we stretched, did some calisthenics and ran to some great chants, including one they created especially for the Marlins! Then we went on to Combat Logistics Company 36, where we learned about the vehicles and plethora of hi-tech equipment it takes to keep the U.S. Marine Corps up and running in the Pacific region. After that we were on to the Provost Marshall’s Office where we were amazed at the skill and patience that goes into training military K9 dogs. The handlers each showed us what their dogs could do, while helping us understand their goal is never to have to employ their dog as a means of force unnecessarily. Next up was a meet and greet with all the members of MWSS-171, where we met some very young marines (some as young as 19) who had assisted with the relief efforts in Japan after the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami took place, often exposing themselves to high levels of radiation…but all proud to have served and helped the Japanese people after the disaster.
Last, but certainly not least, was VMFA 242, a marine fighter attack unit that flies F-18s. We got a briefing on the unit’s mission before stepping out to view the planes in the hangar and on the flight line. What a sight to behold! After donning a helmet and ear protection we were allowed into the cockpit for an explanation of the tools and equipment a pilot has within reach during a flight.
Each of these groups of marines couldn’t have been more gracious or more excited to see the Miami Marlins players and the Marlins Mermaids. They signed autographs, posed for pictures and chatted with the men and women while we learned more about where they call home, how long they’ve been in Japan, and how much they love America’s favorite pastime. There were definitely some strong loyalties to their hometown baseball teams, but it was all in good fun, and everyone enjoyed the visit immensely.
After all this excitement, Stanton, Hayes and Petersen hosted a baseball clinic while Ashley, Jackie and Stephanie taught a dance clinic for children of the marines stationed at Iwakuni. The looks on the kids faces while they got pointers on throwing and catching or learned a dance from the Mermaids was absolutely priceless.
But the highlight of the day for me came shortly after, when the marines all gathered to play a softball game at Penny Lake Field. We weren’t quite sure what to expect from the game, but when many of the marines showed up in full uniforms, we knew we were in for a treat. Master Sergeant Roy Whiteney, part of MWSS-171, introduced us to the group, and Stanton, Hayes and Petersen served as coaches for a softball game I will never forget. These marines taunted and laughed, cajoled and supported their teammates and opponents through seven innings of softball, and the Marlins players even took a few swings while the opposing teams heckled. From the marines on the field to the friends, families and co-workers in the stands, the feeling of family and camaraderie was palpable throughout the entire game.
I’ve never before felt that close to family with a group of total strangers, but by the time we left Iwakuni this morning I think we were honorary members. These marines embraced us with open arms, hugged us and thanked us for coming, and they couldn’t have been more appreciative of the effort made by the Marlins to come halfway around the world to visit them. I have family members who have served in every branch of service, but today I feel like an honorary marine. Thank you, MCAS Iwakuni, for your kindness and hospitality. It was an honor to meet each and every one of you, and thank you for your service and sacrifice. Semper Fi!
Public Affairs Director
Armed Forces Entertainment