U.S. Army Soldiers Seize Opportunity to Volunteer at Tokyo Olympics

By Tim Flack

About 50 U.S. Army volunteers helped Sagamihara City officials successfully host the road race cycling events on the first two days of the Tokyo Olympic Games.

Volunteers said they jumped at the chance for the once-in-a-lifetime experience.

Army Sgt. 1st Class Christopher Eason asked himself a pretty simple question when he was offered the opportunity to join members of Camp Zama’s Better Opportunities for Single Soldiers (BOSS) program to volunteer.

“What is the possibility of being able to volunteer for the Olympics?” he asked. “Any Olympics, anywhere, ever?”

Photo credit U.S. Army/Tim Flack

Kazumi Kawamoto, a U.S. Army Garrison Japan community engagement specialist, explains what is expected to a group of U.S. Army Japan volunteers.

Eason volunteered both days, helping with the men’s race on July 24 and the women’s race on July 25. Temperatures soared into the 90s on both days, making for long, hot shifts.

The cycling events—a 151-mile men’s race and 91-mile women’s race—transited through roughly 18 miles of Sagamihara City. Countless volunteers were needed to line the course to set up barriers, ensure the overall safety of the participants and to clean up after the cyclists blew through in pursuit of Olympic gold.

Sagamihara City officials originally began discussions with U.S. Army Garrison Japan in 2018 on a way to include the Army community to help celebrate their long-standing friendship and various community exchanges.

What they couldn’t predict, however, was COVID-19 and the impact the pandemic would have on the Olympics, to include a yearlong delay of the games. Despite the uncertainty, Army and city officials continued their planning, which included a rehearsal in the summer of 2020.

Randy Benton, the Directorate of Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation BOSS program adviser, was involved in the planning since the beginning. He said he was excited the soldiers were actually able to assist.

Photo credit U.S. Army/Tim Flack

A local resident sprays water on Randy Benton helping to keep him cool as temperatures spiked during the Women’s Road Race cycling event.

“We’re grateful for the opportunity to be a partner with the city,” he said. “It’s important for the Japanese people to see the U.S. Army engaged in the community.”

The event offered Sgt. Renalyn Lawson the opportunity to be part of history, while meeting some great people.

“I wanted to be part of it,” Lawson said. “And it was amazing to get to work with the Japanese volunteers, too.”

For Capt. Frank Taylor, being on the scene gave him a greater appreciation of the games and he enjoyed seeing the behind-the-scenes work that goes into hosting an event of such magnitude.

“Yeah, it was really exciting getting to see the racers who have worked their whole lives for that moment,” he said.

Taylor and his fellow volunteers arrived hours in advance for safety briefings and the explanation of their duties. Dozens of police, support and other Olympic staffing vehicles passed the volunteers, some broadcasting “thank you” messages in English.

Richard Meyer works with a Japanese volunteer to set up barriers in Sagamihara City for the Women’s Road Race cycling event. | Photo credit U.S. Army/Tim Flack

Volunteer Richard Meyer, a cycling enthusiast, considers the Olympic races and the Tour de France the world’s two premier cycling events, so he definitely wanted to take part and lend a hand.

“I love it; it’s my second day here,” he said.

Yoshikazu Kajino, a senior staff member of the Sagamihara City Olympic and Paralympic Games Promotion Division, offered his thanks to all the USARJ volunteers and staff who participated despite the extreme weather conditions.

“Although it was extremely hot, I think that the Army members followed the instructions well from the leaders, set up the course, and provided guidance along the road,” he said. “We were very satisfied and also very happy to be able to interact with them through the event. Thanks to everyone’s great work, we were able to execute the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Cycling Road Race event successfully.

-This article was originally published on Army.mil. It has been edited for USO.org.

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