MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP PENDLETON, Calif. --
The 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) is well-known for the humanitarian missions it has conducted worldwide. Its Marines and sailors spend several months at sea awaiting missions to assist those in need; however they continue to assist whenever possible in garrison.
Marines with the 15th MEU's command element spent this Saturday volunteering on base at a car wash fundraiser for a gymnastics club. The event was an excellent opportunity for the unit's service members to volunteer their time helping others.
"The car wash is provided and donated by the S-6 platoon in support of a gymnastics association called Southern California Elite Gymnastics Academy (SCEGA)," said Gunnery Sgt. Erik D. Stone, electronic key management systems manager, S-6, 15th MEU.
According to Maria H. DeJesus, elite director for SCEGA, the program is made up of upper-level gymnasts ranging from 12-17 year old girls. All of the girls at SCEGA are trying out to become a part of the elite level in this sport.
"Gymnastics is broken up into levels 1-10, with nearly 500,000 competitors in each level," said DeJesus. "Elite is above level 10, and has about four competitors total in the state of California. When 100 girls go to a competition (in another skill level), it is easy to break up the cost of travel and other miscellaneous fees associated with the event, since there are so many attending. With Elite, there are significantly less attending and the cost rises dramatically."
Due to the level of gymnastics their competition season runs almost all year long. The competitions are nationwide with one girl who has competed across the world. Fees, traveling costs for the gymnast, coaches, and parents can become a significant burden on the individual family. The fundraiser is designed to help offset the cost.
In addition to the car wash, DeJesus has coordinated other fundraisers such as a dinner, where Marines attended to help serve food.
"Oh my the Marines are amazing!" said DeJesus. "Without them none of this would have been possible. The marines said just bring the cars and we'll wash them, we are so grateful for their support."
The Marines sacrificed their liberty time on a Saturday to come give back to their surrounding communities to help support the young girls' dreams.
"When I pitched the idea to my Marines I suggested we hold the car wash from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.," said Stone. "They insisted on going from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., nearly an entire work day. The girls really appreciated their help."
The gunnery sergeant wanted to make sure his Marines saw how this volunteerism is similar to what they will experience on deployment.
"The 15th MEU's job is to support foreign countries or diplomatic missions we're assigned to and we do a lot of community relations, we're representing the Marine Corps and America," said Stone. "For me as a leader, I feel this will give them better involvement in the mission we'll conduct when we're deployed."
According to several troops, the event helped build camaraderie and unit cohesion.
"This car wash has really helped bring everyone together," said Lance Cpl. Christopher T. Howard, a volunteer at the car wash and a field radio operator with the 15th MEU. "It got us used to working in a team outside of a uniformed environment. When we are underway it will be second nature."
"As Marines, we get a lot of support from our surrounding community. I think it's only fair that we as neighbors give back whenever we can," said Stone.