Lifeguards monitor people visiting Araha Beach in Chatan, Okinawa, Thursday, May 19, 2022. (Frank Andrews/Stars and Stripes)

CAMP FOSTER, Okinawa — Drowning claims more U.S. military lives in Okinawa than any other cause of accidental death, and the Marine Corps aims to beat it.

Thirty-nine US soldiers have drowned along the Okinawa coast since 2000, according to Marine Corps records. Nine have perished since 2020, including five deaths in 2021.

In April, drowning claimed the lives of a naval officer and a junior marine in Hawaii in unrelated incidents. Countless other swimmers have been saved from near drowning.

To stem the tide of drowning deaths at its island duty stations, Navy bases in Okinawa and Hawaii are planning ocean safety exhibits this month to educate people about the dangers of their islands’ coastlines. . The goal is to get the safety message across to at-risk children and military personnel between the ages of 18 and 26.

Okinawa can be especially deadly for off-duty servicemen drawn to the water.

“There were no deaths from COVID but nine drownings,” Shawn Curtis, director of Marine Corps Installations Safety Pacific, told Stars and Stripes by phone May 5. “And you’ve seen how much emphasis we’ve put on protecting our people in the COVID environment, and sometimes we lose sight of what our biggest threat is here, which is the ocean.

“Drowning is the number one cause of accidental death in Okinawa,” he said in an email Monday.

The six-hour exhibits at Marine Corps Base Hawaii and Torii Station Okinawa will include competitive events that build awareness of ocean security risks.

The Okinawa event is scheduled for 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday. Green Line buses will run to and from Camp Schwab and Hansen to Torii Beach at 8:30 and 10:30.

At Marine Corps Base Hawaii, the event runs from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. May 27 at Pyramid Rock Beach. Surfers Makua Rothman, Kalani Vierra and Kainoa McGee are expected.

“We’re going to be giving away a lot of loot items to participants and those who can answer security questions,” Curtis said.

A sign in Japanese and English warns people not to swim at Araha Beach in Chatan, Okinawa, Thursday, May 19, 2022.

A sign in Japanese and English warns people not to swim at Araha Beach in Chatan, Okinawa, Thursday, May 19, 2022. (Frank Andrews/Stars and Stripes)

Already this year, two military personnel have drowned on consecutive Sundays in the ocean off the Marine Corps base in Hawaii. The first was Navy Lieutenant jg Aaron Fowler, 29, who became unresponsive during a training event in Kaneohe Bay and was pronounced dead in a hospital on April 17.

Seven days later, Marine Pfc. Isaac Romero, 22, drowned while swimming in the ocean near the base, the service said April 27.

In October, four servicemen snorkeling north of Camp Schwab, Okinawa, were caught in a rip current. One escaped the current and the other three spent 3.5 hours in the water until the Japanese Coast Guard came to their rescue.

“If those military guys weren’t in such good shape, I’m not sure we’d be having the same conversation we’re having now,” Curtis said May 5.

The summer months historically bring increased recreational mishaps for American service members around the world.

But in Okinawa, October is the deadliest month for drownings, according to Marine Corps statistics. Curtis attributes the drop to seasonal southerly winds shifting to northerly winds.

“Mother nature is an indiscriminate killer and those who feel the safety net of seemingly calm conditions make inaccurate assessments,” Curtis said. “We are always looking for ways to avoid accidents by educating people to make informed decisions.”