TOWNSVILLE, Australia --
More than 20 Iwakuni and Okinawa-based service members participated in a landscapebeautification project at the Marabou Drive Park here July 15 as part of the community relation projects planned in support of exercise Talisman Sabre 2011.
Talisman Sabre is a biennial exercise designed to test and improve on the Australian and American forces’ ability to conduct joint and combined task-force operations.
Marines and sailors from Marine Aircraft Group 12 Headquarters, Marine Aviation Logistics Squadron 12, Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 314 and Marine Aerial Refueler Transport Squadron 152 participated in the event.
“Us being out here in the community, it just has a lot more positive impact,” said Cmdr. Dean Hoelz, MAG-12 group chaplain. “We have jets flying over making lots of noise (during the exercise) and that can be irritating, but when the community sees Marines out doing this kind of stuff for them they go ‘Oh yeah, but they are also giving us a hand and helping out and making our community a better place.’”
Certain areas of the park have been invaded by foreign plants and weeds that have choked and killed off much of the natural Australian vegetation here. The service members volunteered their day to cut down the unwanted trees and to pull out overgrown vegetation and weeds out of the swampy waters.
Hoelz said the beautification project was great way for the service members to make a positive impact in the community and allowed them to benefit in other ways.
“These community projects help the Marines and sailors get out of their normal everyday work and help them make a real impact in the community,” said Hoelz. “It’s a great way for our Marines and sailors to interact with the local population and learn something about the country they are visiting. They also make and build wonderful friendships and relationships among each other and with the host nation.”
Hoelz planned the event with Kim Sellars, the Coastal Dry Topics Landcare Incorporated community re-vegetation coordinator. The company has been working on the area for approximately two years but progress has been slow due to funding and lack of volunteers.
Sellars said the area the Marines and sailors cleared of weeds would have taken her people three months to clear.
“This is absolutely massive,” said Sellars. “This is such a well-used park. It’s got a bike track you can use to travel right through Townsville. It’s going to be seen by a lot of people.”
Sellars said she is very grateful for what the service members have done.
Many of the service members were also grateful for the opportunity to help out their host nation.
Lance Cpl. Christopher Sheppard, a VMFA-314 individual material readiness list manager, was one of the volunteering Marines at the project who felt what he was doing was important.
“It feels good to come to a country like this and to show people what Marines are about,” said Sheppard. “To come here and to help is just a good thing.”
Sheppard, a New York City native, said he was inspired to participate in community relations projects by the volunteers he saw in his community while he was growing up.
“Volunteering in projects like this is just an hour or a couple of hours of your time,” said Sheppard. “You can afford it.”
More beautification projects at the park are planned to take place each weekend until the end of Talisman Sabre July 29.