1983, 1984, and 1985 were the years I got to experience life on that largest of the Ryukyu islands south of mainland Japan and bordering the South China Sea. Upon my arrival there, it all seemed so exciting. So exciting, in fact, that the naive soldier within me decided to add an additional tour there and signed the papers after only having been there for a few months. Well.....sometimes it takes three years to grow up, once we've reached "adulthood." Live and learn.
So why is it called the rock? Well, in its widest and longest points it is approximately 12 miles wide and 67 miles long with a local population of about 1.5 million (not including the 28 thousand marines, a large naval population, a large airforce base, and the first battalion special forces group that replaced those of us working for NSA at the time.) It is, essentially, a rock with a barrier reef, and I must say the snorkling there was fantastic (if one is smart enough to avoid the rip tides---see my story of sept. 26 for a more "in-depth" view-----no pun intended). The island is a coral collector's heaven. But the sharp and jagged ledges, probably of ancient volcanic activity will slice and dice you in the most painful of ways.
The experiences were adventurous. There were the Habu Snakes, indigenous to the island of "Okie" and six times more deadly than a king cobra (and a real pain in the ass when you decide to go out for an evening run, and they decide the pavement is theirs). There was Typhoon Holly of 1984 which beat the Hell out of Okinawa and Korea, leaving those of us with the status of "single" stranded at work (try copying morse code with no antennas; thank God for the lack of high brass and a staff sergeant supervisor with a 5th of Wild Turkey). Let's not forget to mention the endless fields of sugar cane.
No, but seriously, I loved it. I have often, in my thoughts, slipped back to that island where I was first introduced to the martial arts (no....the real styles....not the kind where people feel dancing and self-defense were meant to be as one). This was the one place I could laugh about being stopped by the police and given a ticket for speeding.............no , let me finish....I was on a fifteen speed bicycle going significantly faster than their 50 kilometer per hour speed limit. Try arguing with an Okinawan police officer who may know three words of english. But it was fun. :)
Now the trips to the Philippines, I will refrain from mentioning, due to their explicit content and the lack of memory from my apparent need to destroy brain cells, but they were fun too. Nuff said.
Here I sit, today, in 2009, with 2010 moving in like it's in some kind of hurry, and I cannot help but to wonder if, perhaps the soldiers stationed there right now, are experiencing anything similar to those memories I have of my life and times on "the Rock".