STORY AND PHOTO BY SKY M. LARON, DIRECTOR OF CORPORATE COMMUNICATIONS, NAVSUP FLEET LOGISTICS CENTER YOKOSUKA
Naval Supply Systems Command (NAVSUP) Fleet Logistics Center (FLC) Yokosuka Sailors battled an unprecedented and ongoing heat wave August 4 and took to the streets to feed nearly 50 destitute Japanese community members outside the gates of Yokosuka Naval Base.
Temperatures have neared 100-degrees Fahrenheit with extremely high humidity for nearly two weeks in the coastal city of Yokosuka, just south of Japan’s mega capital city of Tokyo. According to Japan’s Fire and Disaster Management Agency, 25 people died from heat stroke and other heat related illnesses nationwide during the week of July 27 through August 2, making it the deadliest week in Japan this year, with thousands of others being hospitalized as a result of the hot weather.
As early morning approaches, Japanese commuters must leave their homes to board trains, cars, and buses to get to work. The heat, which is omnipresent, creeps upon them and grips them unrelentingly until the lucky ones find refuge in air conditioned buildings and offices.
However, for some in the city the heat is the very least of their concerns and air conditioning offers only modest comfort. For dozens of disenfranchised Yokosuka residents hunger is what drives their actions on a daily basis.
Yet, on another hot and humid summer evening in the former fishing village turned naval powerhouse, there is relief in the form of a hot meal, which will sustain an individual for another day.
Just outside Yokosuka Naval Base, where for more than 70 years, U.S. Navy Sailors have maintained a presence in the Far East promoting peace and stability in the region, some of these very Sailors, responsible for maintaining a forward presence, offered their hearts, hands and food to care for those local residents they call neighbor.
“I feel grateful that I am able to take care of myself, the training that we receive in the military has taught us about proper hydration and summertime safety, but it’s hard to see folks who are really suffering out here, now add the fact that they are hungry and don’t have the basic means to take care of themselves…that is really humbling,” said Yeoman 2nd Class, Jamon Jefferson, NAVSUP FLC Yokosuka, military administration leading petty officer and a member of the Coalition of Sailors Against Destructive Decisions (CSADD). “Although we were the ones volunteering, I felt an unexpected sense of gratitude and I was grateful to be associated with shipmates whom I did not know possessed such a benevolent spirit.”
CSADD, the group that Jefferson is a member of, is a peer-to-peer mentorship program used Navy-wide. The program is geared at Sailors 18 to 25 years old, to reinforce the culture of “Shipmates helping Shipmates.” The program is different because it gives young Sailors the opportunity to help each other through interaction and to come up with their own creative ways to combat destructive behavior, such as volunteering to help feed those in need.
“There was a genuine desire to participate among every Sailor involved,” said Jefferson. “To be associated with likeminded peers who are constructive with their off-time was a gift in itself.”
Many of the Sailors had similar sentiments.
“It made me feel good being able to give to someone in need without anything in return,” said Logistics Specialist 3rd Class Kaja Baerga, NAVSUP FLC Yokosuka, Industrial Support Department (Code 500) petty officer and a fellow CSADD member. “You never know when you will be that person in need, and every little gesture helps.” Everyone needs a hand at one point or another, Baerga added.
“I think it is important to keep Sailors morale up and to have events for everyone to feel a part of and to make good decisions in and out of uniform,” said Baerga.
Good deeds and charity is nothing new for the Sailors of NAVSUP FLC Yokosuka who regularly work with the local community on various projects from cleaning up city streets, hand-delivering toys to area children’s hospitals and providing meals for those who are hungry.
[caption id="attachment_3766" align="aligncenter" width="600"]
Logistics Specialist 3rd Class Kaja Baerga (center), NAVSUP FLC Yokosuka, Industrial Support Department (Code 500) petty officer and a member of the Coalition of Sailors Against Destructive Decisions, hands hot food items to a local Yokosuka, Japan resident in need (far-right) while Yeoman 3rd Class Giovanni Vanniel (ce nter-left), NAVSUP FLC Yokosuka, military administration petty officer and fellow CSADD member, holds a box of food for delivery to the other hungry local nationals in need.
“I have a sense of satisfaction knowing that I impacted someone’s life,” said Yeoman 3rd Class Giovanni Vanniel, NAVSUP FLC Yokosuka, military administration petty officer and CSADD member. “Showing compassion and giving kindness can really uplift a person when he’s experiencing a rough time.”
Deep bows of appreciation and thanks came from those who stood in line for food but for many of the CSADD volunteers, it was they who felt thankful.
Ship’s Serviceman 1st Class Charles Clay, NAVSUP FLC Yokosuka customer service leading petty officer and CSADD volunteer, said he has been volunteering for 14 years but this was his first time feeding the homeless and it felt amazing.
“Sometimes life isn’t fair and some people have it harder than others,” said Clay. “If I am in a position to bring light into someone’s life, that’s exactly what I plan to do.”
Clay added that there was a language barrier, “but they knew we cared and we could see from their reaction that they were grateful.”
It was clear that the event meant a lot to both the volunteers as well as those they assisted.
“It makes me feel a little bad but also conscience to the decisions I make as far as wasting things that other people may really need,” said Baerga. “It’s also empowering when you see people who are strong enough to ask for help and not be ashamed.”
Baerga was not the only CSADD volunteer Sailor who walked away with a better understanding of herself and her neighbors in need.
“Despite my impression of Japan and its culture of being such a progressive, advanced, and modernized nation I was surprised that the country had any homeless population at all,” said Yeoman Seaman Brooke Sparks. “Sadly I’ve learned that poverty is universal.”
As the last bag was filled with food and put into the waiting hands of a community member in need, the NAVSUP FLC Yokosuka Sailors walked back to base.
It made me feel good being able to give to someone in need without anything in return,” said Logistics Specialist 3rd Class Kaja Baerga, NAVSUP FLC Yokosuka, Industrial Support Department (Code 500) petty officer and a fellow CSADD member. “You never know when you will be that person in need, and every little gesture helps.”
Some wished they could have done more. “Next time I’m going to bring more water,” said Jefferson. “They could have really used some more bottled water.” It was late and they still had their day-job duties to perform in the morning, which is to serve the Asia Pacific Region’s forward deployed maritime warfighter with 24/7 operational logistics support across the U.S. Navy’s largest geographical area of responsibility, no small task.
It had been a long hot night but one that will remain vivid in the minds of these volunteers for a long time to come.