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Service members paddle into heart of community

Date Posted: 2004-08-12

Schwab keeps friendships afloat during 26th annual dragon boat race

NAGO, OKINAWA, Japan — Three teams packed themselves into small boats like sardines in tin cans. The crews dipped their paddles into the water, awaiting the starting shot.

Bang!

The drums started pounding and the contestants slammed their paddles in the water hoping for a victory.

This scene repeated itself again and again for 170 teams and more than 5,000 spectators from Okinawa and mainland Japan at the 26th Annual Nago City Mayor’s Cup Dragon Boat Race here Aug. 8. Two of the teams participating were from Camp Schwab.

The community used Okinawa’s most popular marine sport to promote friendship and tourism throughout the island through this event. However, traditional dragon boat racing is based on a superstitious belief, according to Toshio Inamine, managing director of the Nago City Visitor’s Bureau.

“The dragon boat races were held in the past to honor the fishing harvest and as a prayer tradition,” Inamine said. “Okinawa has a marine culture, and good luck is believed to come from the ocean.”

Reference sources indicate that dragon boat racing can be traced back more than 2,000 years to the rivers of Southern China. Dragon boat racing is usually associated with the story of Cyu Yuan, an official and poet, who drowned in the Miluo River around 278 B.C. After his death, the Chinese locals, while in decorative boats, banged drums and threw money into the water as an offering to the water spirits, dragons and ghost of Yuan.

The two Camp Schwab teams, one male and one female, did their best to uphold those 2,000 years of tradition. The men’s team was made up of Marines with 3rd Reconnaissance Battalion and a drummer, 9-year-old Carlos Rice. The women’s team consisted of service members with 3rd Materiel Readiness Battalion, Combat Assault Battalion and 3rd Dental Battalion, as well as one civilian with the Camp Hansen environmental office.

“We had two grueling practices for about (one) hour each last week,” said Pfc. Samantha Bailey, an ammunition technician with 3rd MRB. “It wasn’t much time to prepare, but ammo Marines are always ready for anything.

“We were very competitive. It felt good to get out there and give it all (we had),” Bailey said.

Though neither of the Marine teams placed high enough in the standings to move on to the final round, they defeated many experienced racers, explained Pfc. Joshua Garcia, a field radio operator from Yuma, Ariz. The men’s team finished the 300-meter race with a time of 1 minute, 56 seconds, and the women finished in 2:14.

“It was exciting,” said Lance Cpl. Chris K. Walden II, a field radio operator from Harrison, Mich. “We didn’t know what to expect, but we went out and blew the two teams we were racing out of the water. It felt pretty good.

“It seemed like we knew what we were doing. We were only out of the first-round- winner’s circle by nine seconds,” Walden said.

The Marines were invited to participate in the races to give the event international flavor, Inamine explained.

“We enjoy having our friends from the military community out here,” Inamine said. “Camp Schwab is a big part of the Nago community, and we invite (U.S. service members) to all of our events.”

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