Face of Defense: Marine Finds Way to Help Tsunami Victims
By Marine Corps Gunnery Sgt. Cindy Fisher
Marine Corps Bases Japan
CAMP COURTNEY, Japan, March 24, 2011 Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Yamile Brito is proving the truth of former President John F. Kennedy’s statement that “One person can make a difference, and everyone should try.”
Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Yamile Brito uses her off-duty time to coordinate a food drive at the Camp Courtney, Japan, commissary to help the victims of the magnitude 9.0 earthquake and resulting tsunami that struck mainland Japan. U.S. Marine Corps photo by Gunnery Sgt. Cindy Fisher
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
Brito, with Headquarters Battalion, 3rd Marine Division, 3rd Marine Expeditionary Force, is the driving force behind a food drive at the commissary here on the Japanese island of Okinawa for victims of the magnitude 9.0 earthquake and subsequent tsunami that struck mainland Japan on March 11.
Reading news reports of the devastation in mainland Japan affected her deeply, Brito said, and she knew she needed to help. One article she saw hit her particularly hard, she added, as it detailed the experience of a Japanese man who had been in the water for four days and saw his wife die in the tsunami.
“It made me feel horrible, terrible,” she said, admitting she’s come close to tears several times reading some of the articles and seeing the images of destruction. The news stories and photographs burned into her memory also created in her a strong desire to provide some kind of aid to those in need, she said.
“Half the platoon left that weekend, and I was really frustrated, because I wanted to go with them,” she said. “I kept thinking that there has to be something I can do.”
Brito told her fiance, Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Cameron Perry, also with Headquarters Battalion, that she was disappointed at being on Okinawa and unable to help. “He suggested I do a canned food drive,” said Brito, from New York City.
Perry, of Natchitoches, La., said he got the idea for a food drive based on what people in New Orleans needed following the devastation of Hurricane Katrina in 2005. While he wasn’t in Louisiana for the hurricane, he said, he has clear memories of the devastation and the shortfalls that ensued.
“I knew Katrina victims, and I knew what they needed when they were in shelters,” he said.
Brito said she had never coordinated a food drive or done anything like this before, but she jumped on the idea and brought in Perry and another friend, Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Erin Hollingsworth, from New Virginia, Iowa, to help. By March 12, Brito had contacted the commissary for approval to place donation boxes at the store’s entrance. Michael E. Shannon, the store administrator, said he gave the go-ahead and by the next day, donation boxes were in place requesting canned food for mainland victims.
Shannon said he was surprised someone was willing to give time out of an already busy schedule to spearhead this effort, but that he admires Brito and the Marines helping her for what they are doing. Brito and Hollingsworth remind him of his daughter, who is about the same age, he added, and he found it heartening to see them start the effort to help others.
He also was amazed by the generosity of the people in Camp Courtney’s military community. “We were overwhelmed at the response of our customers,” he said.
More than 15 grocery carts of food and other items were donated by March 18, Shannon said. That’s more than $4,000 worth of goods, and the donations are still coming in, he added.
The response has been unbelievable, Brito said. In addition to canned food, people also have donated diapers, hygiene items, boxes of rice and other foods, she said. After the Kadena Air Base youth center announced March 15 it could no longer accept donations due to space issues, people also began donating blankets and other items, she added.
Brito and her assistants have been collecting the donations from the commissary and boxing them up for shipment to the mainland.
The operational tempo of Brito’s unit has increased, as Marines are being sent to support humanitarian assistance and disaster relief efforts. And the canned food drive is consuming more of Brito’s off-duty hours. But all the extra work is worth it for the peace of mind it has given her, she said.
“I needed – for me – to be OK with not being there. I needed to do something,” Brito said.
She said she thinks others felt that way as well, as evidenced by the donations she has received. For some, she explained, “this is the only opportunity we have to make a difference. It could have been us but it wasn’t, and there are thousands of people that will really appreciate the help.”
Brito said she hopes to continue the food drive throughout March and then reassess to see if there is still a need before continuing the food drive in April.