“It’s a challenge,” said U.S. Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Preston Batson, the assistant barracks manager for the Joint Reception Center Marines.
Although many of the services across Marine Corps camps on Okinawa have stopped and resumed based on the COVID-19 climate, JRC has continued to be a 365 day, 24/7 operation.
“The JRC staff and I are always on the go,” Batson said. “While we wear masks and stay 6 feet apart, there’s always a chance to be exposed to COVID-19. We are surrounded by Marines new to the island who have executed the 14-day restriction of movement, and Marines whose flight has just landed to Okinawa.”
Despite COVID-19 restrictions, JRC Marines have continued to assist hundreds of accompanied and unaccompanied service members with their overseas transition.
New unaccompanied E-5 and below Marines and greenside sailors step-off the Patriot Express into Kadena Air Base Terminal to be greeted by the JRC staff. Batson, eager to welcome the Marines and sailors, helps facilitate the process of checking the Marines in and accounting for their wellbeing.
“Our job is continuous,” said Batson, also a driver for JRC. “We live with the JRC Marines, so when we go home we are still with them – always on call.”
“At the end of the day it’s our job as the JRC staff to make sure the new Marines and sailors are safe.” Lance Cpl. Preston Batson, Joint Reception Center Marines assistant barracks manager
All inbound personnel to Okinawa are mandated to execute a 14-day ROM. However, the JRC staff still continuously ensures their safety, by conducting wellness checks three times a day, bringing chow to them, and ensuring they thoroughly clean daily.
“On average, we have 60 or more Marines and sailors in both barracks,” said Batson. “COVID-19 has not stopped JRC; we have only adjusted what we do.”
After the 14-day ROM cycle, the Marines execute their week-long orientation to the island. Before the global pandemic, the JRC Marines used to have classes every day, and toward the end of the week, they would visit Hacksaw Ridge. Health protection condition restrictions limit the staff to only allowing the most vital classes to be taught. Under current conditions, the battle site tours have been suspended.
“COVID-19 has put a hold on some of the things we do, but we always adapt and overcome,” said Cpl. Daniel Chavez, a troop handler with JRC. “It’s kept us on our toes, and we adjusted as needed to continue helping the Marines in JRC.”
With COVID-19 still prevalent, it has caused an adjustment to the organization and procedures of JRC. However, the staff has worked hard to overcome and push forward.
“There is a lounge for the JRC Marines to interact with one another, of course staying 6 feet apart and wearing a mask,” said Batson. “There is a TV, video games, board games, and books for them to use. The biggest thing is to make sure they are ok. I don’t like to see a Marine sad, I want to do everything I can to make them smile and know we are here for them.”
The JRC staff help establishes principles for other noncommissioned officers to uphold when placed in a leadership position with Marines under their command.
“In a way, we are a mentor to these Marines,” said Chavez. “NCOs should be watching out for their Marines, making sure they get chow, and be somebody who helps with anything they need.”
The main effort of the JRC staff is to take care of every Marine and sailor who comes through the program.
“At the end of the day it’s our job as the JRC staff to make sure the new Marines and sailors are safe,” said Batson. “A part of keeping them safe is checking on them multiple times a day and ensuring they are healthy physically and mentally. They are important.”