CONTRIBUTED BY CINDY CROSBY
One of our Okinawa hobbies is hosting students for a company called “Friends Abroad”. Basically, they organize groups who come to Okinawa from the mainland for 3-4 day trips. On one of the days, students have the opportunity to have an “American Experience”. We play the role of “culture teachers”, pick them up in the morning around 9:00, give them an American experience and return them around 4 or 5. My kids really enjoy participating in the program and all the attention they get from the groups (usually 3 students at a time) of Japanese teenagers. We generally show them some airplanes, take a picnic lunch to a beach and make cookies at my house while my little one naps. The company even pays us for our time and effort (we are to provide their lunch and other activities we choose . . .bowling?). For us, it’s a fun little part time job for a couple days a month.
Their contact info is:
The points mentioned in this article are some of the best available…
AT ?..What I’m trying to get at is the fact there is alot to be learned and shared between mentors and students. I’ve learned alot about their culture and lifestyle as well as them learning alot about ours.
@Darlene- with the “conventional” oven comment- from what we saw of Japanese houses while looking for ours, conventional ovens are not the Japanese norm. So, regardless of social standing, it does not surprise me in the least that many students had never seen one.
How many of you have seen a “normal” Japanese oven? I bet even their poorer members of society have one!
I like That Darlene..well put!!
@Parkers in all honesty when I started the program I thought wow..this is some quick easy pocket change but it became so much more than that and I begin to take a genuine interest in the program. I saw how the students were completely amazed at our homes, food storage, and even the fact that they never saw a 12 lb. turkey before. The girls absolutely loved baking and looking at American magazines. Since I volunteer regularly, I can say that I would have loved to do this also on a volunteer basis also because I enjoyed interacting with the students. As far as the issue with the background check, a SSgt from PMO on Futenma told us their is a process to get the visitors on base. Locals have to apply at the consulate office then it goes from there to PMO. As far as the kids are concerned, you may have received a few bad apples out of thousands but I believe the students were here to experience American culture.
@Michelle, many participants of this program did the bare minimal to try to keep a good amount of the money that was given. I took the time to read the interests and their profiles on their permission forms to see what their interest were then plan meals, activities, and end of the day gifts for them. A PX trip was more about clothing size comparison, fabric, and style. In my home it was about showing the difference in size of cooking utensils and pans, electronics and furniture. Some have never seen a conventional oven! Even the poor stateside have a conventional oven. Again, if someone could get a good hold of this program and do it right it could be a great program in the future!
SHAME ON ME!?! Really?sure ok!!! but ummm yeah… But Michelle I agree with you.
I dont think what I said about the guy in Texas was tasteless…I was just speaking about the different amount of knowledge we have on the people we are welcoming into our military
Darlene mentioned background checks I was just saying even with a background check you still cant be trusted..How is that tasteless? He is a perfect example of some one with a background check..
This is scary that this was allowed to go on for so long. Thank goodness it was banned.
The thing in Texas- that just proves that even people with security checks can be a threat. So why allow people you do not know onto base? You then expose everyone to a possible threat so you can make money. That is just sad.
If people really want to introduce people to American culture and food (in a whopping 8 hour time period) then they can do this off base. Showing someone base housing, a beach on Okinawa, the PX is not exposing them to any sort of real American culture.
Parker is correct. We caught a couple of the Friends Abroad kids taking pictures of and video taping the aircraft and the flightline prior to the program ban. When they were questioned about why they wanted the pictures, neither of them could give us a good reason. I would expect most kids to say something like, “I think jets are cool!”. One boy wouldn’t say anything, and the other boy kept saying something about someone asking him to take pictures but not to tell anyone. We did have an interpretor, so language barrier was not the issue. By the way, in case you were wondering how they managed to break the law while under the supervision of a sofa-status adult, the two left their “host” at the exchange and took a taxi to the flightline. I can imagine the money wasn’t worth it in the end for the spouse who sponsored those two on…
In addition to this incident, we caught one of the Friends Abroad kids shoplifting from the exchange. I’m sure some of the kids really do just want to know about the American way of life but, if it’s a possible security threat, then it cannot be allowed. That is exactly why the program was banned.
I don’t think anyone is specifically picking on the kids. Good kids can be used by ill-intended adults and not even fully realize it. If the whole program was about interacting with Americans/exposure to English, then why couldn’t the kids and hosts spend time together off-base? Why did it have to take place on American military bases? My point is, though the kids may bring along paperwork that states who they are, etc., you have no idea who they really are if you meet them in a parking lot outside Pass and Id 2 minutes before you sign them on. I totally agree with your point about service members signing on locals they just picked up at the bar- I don’t think they should be coming onto base either for other reasons. As far as the man in Texas who shot fellow soldiers in a shooting rampage, well, that is just tasteless to compare what he did to the subject at hand. That is a completely different story. Shame on you.
Darlene- I personally know women who “hosted” Friends Abroad kids until the program was banned from the bases. None of them did it out of the kindness of their hearts, and ALL of them bragged about the kind of money they were being paid to show the kids around base. Also, two of them made fun of the kids they were hosting. You may be one of the exceptions who really cared about being instrumental in a culture exchange, but I certainly didn’t get them impression from most.
@ Parkers I totally understand what you are saying and I know about some of the issues on the base. Every time I tried to do research and asked the MPs about the problems the CHILDREN from friends abroad is causing, I always get this answer “No Problems From The Kids, The Problem is the guy Over The Program” see what Im saying? I feel as if these Kids are more trust worthy than the women the single soldiers are signing on the base, that they met in a club or the men signing there japanese boyfriends on they met in the club that night. At least with the kids they have ALL there info and there only on the base for 2 to 3 hours … Ok so then ya talking about back ground checks ..ok thats fine and I totally agree with that…but what about the man in Texas, who was in the US Military all those years with background check and holding the position as an officer killing those people, which he had been planning sense he joined the US military? I agree that the owner is wrong and can’t be trusted but how people have been picking on the kids, I totally disagree ..
As I have worked with Friends Abroad for a little over a year it wasn’t until yesterday, December 14, 2010 that I realized the owner of Friends Abroad had no real intentions on showing these naive students American Culture. He is in this for the Y80000 up to Y300000 he charges the parents of the students that come to Okinawa. Mr.Nagamine “sells” the opportunity to American lifestyle or culture as he calls it to these parents that desire their child to learn English. Today 12/15/2010 I decided that the issues surrounding this program was not worth the hassle of trying to ge the students onto a military installation so I handed my paperwork back to Mr. Nagamine and told him that I could not do it and for othe reasons stated to him. What he did was told some of the participants of his program that I reported them on Camp Kinser that is the reason why they were turned away at the gate, which was a lie! I found out the truth when participants explained to them what PMO told them. When I got wind of the information I called him to ask him why he lied on me (with three of the participants listening). All he could say is ‘OH’ I’m sorry. So I went a step further to ask him what time is his meeting with the General on Camp Foster…stunned silence!! He again had been lying to us about this so called meeting scheduled on December 20th. Don’t believe me you can call building one and talk to someone in the Judge Advocate office!!!
For the women who participate in this program I tell you that what other are saying about him is correct. His paperwork is not correct, he KNOWS that he must have background security done on the students and the parents that send them. He prays on naive spouses looking to add a few dollars to their pockets. To the person who said that they wouldn’t do this out of the kindness of their heart..you’re wrong. I love the concept of a program to introduce students to American culture..just don’t like the scam that is behind it.
Maybe YOU have no bad intentions for visiting a military base, but that doesn’t hold true for everyone. If you don’t believe me, ask some of the mp’s at the bases about the kind of scary stuff that happens on a regular basis. You can never be too careful. Anyone living in this day and age ought to know better. There are other ways of interacting with the local community than accepting money to escort strangers onto the bases.
Wow I totally had no idea all this was going on, one destination was set bowling ally, home for lunch and then back off base. I was able to tour a japanese base for a couple of hours, I took advantage of that opportunity because I was really interested in there military life, I didn’t do it to scope out the Japanese place for a no good reason, the kids I have seen was really interested in cooking with there mentors, (American food) looking at the american furnitures, and learning the language.
Is that the company run by Mr Nagamine? Wasn’t he investigated by the police recently for getting a minor in his care drunk?
If so, then people should take care, irrespective of SOFA stuff.
Greetings. As I am one of the names referred to in the third reply to this article I thought I would provide a brief bit of insight into the “legality” of the matter and set straight the record that there is nothing in writing on the issue.
Per United States Forces Japan Message 54 dated 11 July 1995, the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs determined that participation by SOFA personnel in these types of programs is against the Status of Forces Agreement. I will not comment on why this is a violation of the SOFA, as I am not a legal officer, but it against the SOFA in the eyes of the Japanese Government.
There is also a Marine Corps Base Japan Staff Judge Advocate Office letter dated August 2006 stating that SOFA status personnel are prohibited from participating in these programs if they are providing base access to the personnel either for a few hours or for overnight stays.
While many people believe this is a new policy it clearly is not. The problem is that it has never been properly enforced before. I know that at Camp Courtney we have been denying base access for these visits for over 2 years, other installations like Kadena are just now beginning to do so. In the last two years there have been instances of personnel successfully gaining access to Courtney and McTureous for these programs, but they have been doing so in violation of policy and risk losing their SOFA status and being sent back home, possibly without their military sponsor who would be required to finish their assignment.
While this seems like a great chance to get involved in a cultural exchange with Host Nation personnel, and make a little money in the process, it is in violation of the SOFA if you bring these personnel onto base. If you are truly interested in participating in cultural exchanges with local personnel contact your installation Community Relations Specialist and they will introduce you to a myriad of activities and families. Then, once you befriend some of these people and get to know them, you can sponsor them on base for a cultural exchange if you would like. The privilege extended to all SOFA members to sponsor personnel onto the bases is based upon your knowledge and trust of these individuals. You become personally responsible for them the minute you sign them in. When participating in these commercial programs you do not know the personnel prior to signing them on. In the end you are violating the SOFA, violating existing policy, and lining the pockets of the owners of these commercial exchange programs.
If anyone would like a copy of the MCBJ Letter I would be happy to forward it to them, simply email me at the below address.
First of all, I can’t believe anyone involved in this Friends Abroad program couldn’t see what a security risk it was presenting. Why would a bunch of school kids want to see the inside of a military installation? Curiosity? Something else…? Who really knows? And that is why they have NO buisness being on a military base. The bases have enough problems already without dependents escorting unknown people onto base.
Jean G.- There were already rules in place making this program illegal. When you sign someone onto base, you’re doing it with the implication that you know them and that you will be responsible for them. Well, meeting someone outside the gate twenty seconds before you go in to sign them on does not constitute “knowing” somebody.
The dependents who were bringing these kids onto base are mad about the general’s order bedcause they were getting paid per student to escort them around base- easy money. I highly doubt any of them would do it for free, out of the kindness of their heart and for the sake of cultural interaction.
Stop whining and start being thankful that there are people here who watch over the base and keep you all safe.
This is an email I was fwd’ed about this program..
From: Pheabus, Sean W MSgt USAF AETC 372 TRS DET 15/DOA
Sent: Wednesday, January 06, 2010 4:37 PM
To: 372 TRS DET15/Distribution
Subject: Friends Abroad Warning
This is a popular program, but it seems that it is against the rules…be
by Staff Sgt. Jason Lake
18th Wing Public Affairs
1/5/2010 – KADENA AIR BASE, Japan — Some base residents with good
intentions may be putting their Status of Forces Agreement privileges at
In recent weeks, 18th Security Forces Squadron officials have denied
hundreds of escort requests by base residents sponsoring local nationals who
are willing to pay to see what’s on the inside of an American military base.
First Lt. Eric Craft, 18th SFS officer-in-charge of plans and programs, said
private companies off base have solicited base residents, primarily military
spouses, to escort Japanese students and tourists they have never met on
base in return for a small payoff. The arrangement is pitched by the
companies to military ID card holders as a cultural exchange program, but
security forces officials warn residents not to participate.
“These types of programs are a security risk to the base populace because
residents are bringing people they have never met on base,” said Lt. Craft.
“Escort authority is based on the assumption that the escort knows and will
take personal responsibility for a visitor, but in these cases, they have no
idea what the visitor’s motives are for coming on base.”
In addition to the security concerns, SOFA members who receive payments from
off base companies participating in these programs, such as “Friends Abroad
International Cultural Exchange” and “Equal Japan,” could find themselves in
administrative or legal trouble for not properly reporting off base income
to the Japanese government, Lieutenant Craft warned.
“If ID cardholders are caught participating in these types of programs, they
could be denied base access and their names could be forwarded to the Office
of Special Investigations and the Government of Japan for further inquiry
and action,” he said.
Base residents who have questions about these types of cultural exchange
programs should contact security forces pass and identification section at
Thursday December 11 Families who live on Kadena began to have problems bringing Friends Abroad & E.C.O. Jp Students on base. Through out the week the issue only got bigger. There are tons of stories going around on why its going on. The Commander of Kadena says its a security issue. After a student teaching some students were interview by a local newpaper and were quoted saying they got tours of Kadena Airbase which is a breech of the SOFA agreement. Now its at the point that even NCIS is involved. Some of us families think and feel that maybe Mr. Nagamine is sugar coating the situation and not really being thruthful in order for us to take the students even if it means we have to spend all day off base in places like Juscos and eating at McD’s. On Thursday the 17th many families weren’t able to pick up their assing students because Foster and other Marine bases weren’t allowing access through the Gates… or so we were told but, my students and I were able to get into Foster with no issue. Access was denied to famiels trying to get in to Kinser and were even pulled asside to get a brief on why its wrong. Some say its ilegal but, there is nothing on paper that says it so. The whole situation SUCKS!!! So NO students allowed in Kadena at all and that may change to all bases soon. I am also sorry that Sara was put in the situation were she had to walk out on Friends Abroad just because she was being honest. Props to her…family always comes first! Friends Abroad lost a good person. I guess we all just have to be patient and watch were this deal ends up.
My wife also had an issue with this yesterday. The Kadena legal office gave me the name of a LT charged with the investigation but he never answered his phone. The people at Friends Abroad were less than helpful also. They told her the base access was her issue to deal with and she needed to get it figured out. If anyone has any more information that may be helpful please post it so we can get this figured out.
Please contact me, I had issues this past Thursday w/ Kadena in ref to culture exchange program. Never had this happen before and the last thing I want to do is something that the base is considering illegal? (Kadena). Gonzalez-I too enjoy it and was disturbed that Kadena was giving a major problem w/ this!
With all the issues going on with Kadena and Friends Abroad dose anyone know if the program will still continue? The students and families weren’t allowed on base during a cultural teaching with ECO Japan this past thrusday. I have been doing it for a while and love it.
Just to clarify, THIS IS LEGAL!!! The base legal office and MCS legal occassionally get some dimwit that brings this issue up and gets everyone in a furry. Homestay, an overnight experience is illegal and it is prohibited by numerous federal laws and SOFA agreements! But these short stays are allowed and you will be allowed to bring (sign on to base) any kids that you host. It is a GREAT opportunity for kids and families, and builds goodwill. Anyone who thinks otherwise has never seen the tears flow after these few short hours. I was stationed in Okinawa from 87-93 and have returned annually snce and have stood up for Friends Abroad and ICE Okinawa on numerous occassions. I have educated base legal personnel on this issue and will surely do again. In the meantime, try this, it is worth a worl of rewards. “My kids” have gone on to accomplish great things! One is even a commentator on CNN and runs a premier website for Time Warner! Take care!!!
Thanks I was just curious about the reasons!
As far as I know, it is anyone trying to bring them on base. The article doesn’t specify the violation other than to say the program essentially “sells” access to base. “…the host nation civilians pay hundreds of dollars to the program director who then coordinates with SOFA status personnel to bring them on base…” It’s a brief article but did welcome anyone with questions to contact the above-mentioned individuals. They will provide documentation indicating that SOFA status personnel are prohibited from participating.
Can you define how it is a violation? Is it just for those living on base. I am just curious to the details and I really don’t want to clog up email boxes. Thanks!
Thanks for that information, Michelle.
I realize this post is pretty old but wasn’t sure if anyone still reads it. I wanted to point out, in the July 08 issue of the Camp Courtney newsletter, they said this is in violation of SOFA. If you want further clarification, contact the Deputy Camp Commander, Mr Stephen Ricketts (email@example.com) or Paul Dail (Courtney & McT Antiterrorism Analyst).
I checked with “the boss” and they will work with people whether they live on or off base. Children are also optional.
Thanks for sharing, Cindy. I wonder if this opportunity is open to people who live off-base. Do you know?