Face of Defense: Missouri Marine Finds Home in Okinawa

CAMP HANSEN, Japan, March 9, 2017 — Before he joined the Marine Corps at age 27, Gunnery Sgt. Todd N. Groves started out as a pig farmer in Fulton, Missouri. At one point, he drove trucks packed with groceries from coast to coast. He saw mountains, rivers, and everything in between, never imagining that the small island of Okinawa eventually would be a place he’d call home.

“I always tell people home is where you make it,” Groves said. “Home is where the heart is.”

Leaving home is a coming-of-age experience for many service members, but Groves said he was happy and established in his career, trucking around the country. But when the 9/11 attacks occurred, he said, he immediately drove to the Marine Corps recruiting substation in Joplin, Missouri. He dropped everything in that moment to serve his country, never imagining that his time in service would bring him back to his farm roots.

Numerous Opportunities to Serve

Groves’ Marine Corps career has taken him all over the world and given him numerous opportunities to serve. His first duty station was Okinawa. From there, he transferred to California. Since then, he has deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan, and he served as a recruiter in Missoula, Montana.

Throughout his career, Groves said, he sought a variety of additional opportunities to help his community through organizations such as the Red Cross and Toys for Tots. His desire to serve led him to the opportunity to farm in Okinawa.

“I would drive around and I would see farmers out in the countryside,” he said, recalling the beginning of his second tour here in September 2014. “I would see numerous people working and I’d think, ‘I’m a strong guy. I bet those guys need help.’”

Groves — a maintenance chief with Small Craft Repair Platoon, Expeditionary Operations Training Group, 3rd Marine Expeditionary Force, began to search for an opportunity to return to farming. A few months later, Marine Corps Community Services introduced him to Bokusei Kinjo, a local farmer who inherited a farmer’s market from his father 22 years ago. Since the two met Dec. 4, 2014, they have been working together.

Groves said he knows the hard work involved in running a farm. He dedicates all of his free time to tending the pineapple garden, banana trees, and a variety of other plants there. He feeds pigs, goats, and rabbits, and helps Kinjo build makeshift facilities to store food and livestock.

“I volunteer on holidays,” he said. “If I have a [long weekend], I’m usually out there on his farm.”

Hard Work is Noticed

Kinjo said he notices Groves’ hard work, adding that Groves willingly performs difficult manual labor whenever called upon. “He is a nice guy,” he said. “Any type of job I tell him to do, he knows how to do it. I’m very happy. My family is, too.”

After spending countless hours working the land, sharing cherished moments and laughing over numerous family dinners, Groves and Kinjo have become more than fellow farmers — they have become a part of each other’s lives. Groves, who now refers to Kinjo as Oto-san, or father figure, extended his tour of duty here from two years to four because of the relationship they’ve built.

“I would really miss Okinawa if I were to leave now,” he said.

Groves has volunteered about 1,000 hours, primarily serving alongside Kinjo. Groves was recommended for the Outstanding Volunteer Service Medal, but he expressed no interest in receiving recognition for what he sees simply as helping a family member.

“I’m not looking forward to leaving,” he said. “Bokusei and his family have taken me into their home and made me feel warm and welcome. It’s been rewarding to work with him.”

Source: US Department of Defense

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