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Marines hunt pint-sized prey

Date Posted: 2004-07-22

NAGO, OKINAWA, Japan — A Marine hits his opponent with a ball, bewildering him like a deer caught in headlights. He smiles because of his victory even though his opponent is half his size.
Ten volunteers with 9th Engineer Support Battalion, 3rd Force Service Support Group, played dodge ball against more than 120 sixth-grade Iha Elementary School students here July 14.

“Experiencing an activity like dodge ball with the Okinawan children is a great way to develop a relationship with the surrounding community,” said Lt. Steven T. Orren, 9th ESB chaplain. “The service members of 9th ESB visit the school about two times a month.”

Before the challenge began, three students stood in the front of the gym and led the service members in stretching exercises.

With a microphone in hand, one of the students counted repetitions in English, and the participants in the gym repeated the number in unison.

“The kids were excited even though they could only speak a few English words,” said Megumi Koki Smith, sixth-grade English teacher. “The children understood the Marines’ English enough to know that the Marines had a good time.”

The match began like a basketball game. Two of the tallest players from each team jumped to reach the ball that was tossed into the air by a referee standing between them.

“Because I towered over the students, it was no surprise that I would be jumping for the ball,” said Pfc. Mathew E. Ward, engineer assistant. “It was, however, hard to jump for the ball wearing socks on a polished, hardwood floor.”

Two games were played consecutively, giving every student the chance to play against the service members.

“At first, I thought we would destroy the kids at dodge ball,” Ward said with a smile. “However, the students were small targets and very quick, which made it difficult to get them out of the game.”
The scores of the game were not important because the purpose of the event was to have a good time, Smith explained.

“We had an extremely good time,” said Ward. “I am looking forward to visiting the school again when another trip arises.”

Before the Marines began to visit the school, the students did not have extensive knowledge about Americans but, because the service members visit a lot, the children have grown fond of the Marines, Smith said.

“It makes me happy when they come to our school,” said sixth-grader Kazusa Yamashiro. “I like the Marines because they are always smiling.”

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