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    Photo By Yoshie Makiyama | Jessica Niss talks about her son with the background slide showing his funeral.... read more read more



    Story by Yoshie Makiyama 

    Marine Corps Installations Pacific

    When the Okinawa rainy season was announced, the mother of the late Marine Cpl. Eric-John Niss-DeJesus visited Okinawa to give a series of presentations to Marines and Sailors on various bases for one week in May.

    Eric-John, a military working dog trainer at Camp Kinser, was 24 when he went missing June 5, 2021, while swimming with friends at Odo Beach, Itoman City, Okinawa. He was found five days later, deceased in the sea about 1,000 feet from shore without a life vest. It was determined that he lost his life to a rip current.

    Jessica Niss, standing in front of nearly 300 Marines and Sailors at the theater on Camp Foster, gave her first hour-long presentation, May 19. She delivered a message of safety from a mother’s perspective and talked about the importance of using risk management in dangerous situations.

    Niss’s presentation was part of the annual Critical Days of Summer safety campaign which runs Memorial Day weekend through Labor Day weekend.

    Every year as summer approaches Marine Corps Installations Pacific Safety Office conducts a series of training sessions to increase safety awareness among service members in hopes of reducing the potential of preventable mishaps. Okinawan summer starts right after the rainy season ends.

    According to the Safety Office, among the many dangers service members face, recreational off-duty, drownings and near miss drownings are the leading preventable mishaps among U.S. forces in Okinawa. Since 2000, a total of 41 Status of Force Agreement personnel have lost their lives in local waters. In addition, another 43 were rescued, although that number is said to be more, due to unreported near miss incidents.

    Shawn Curtis, director of the Safety Office, said many of those water-related deaths and incidents could be prevented by understanding sea conditions, rip currents, and by wearing life vests.

    Curtis also said that such incidents not only place a huge burden on the families, friends, and readiness, but also endanger civilian and emergency responders, as well as cause an unnecessary strain on emergency response resources of the host country and the U.S. military in Okinawa.

    “They (the Safety Office) reached out to me in November (2022), as they wanted to create awareness,” said Niss. “They have been sharing Eric-John’s story since (the tragedy) but they were wondering if I would come out (to Okinawa) and put that extra link of connection.” Her response was an immediate yes.

    Curtis stated before the Niss presentation that because the greatest risk takers statistically were junior service members, the target audience was E5 and below, which was the main audience on May 19.

    “They live in the moment, that is the mentality of the kids,” Niss said. “But there are some key things. Water is powerful, it’s no joke here. I brought a message from their families.”

    What Niss wanted to emphasize was “Practice a Pause,” which she taught Eric-John from a young age. When you are upset, in a crisis, or before taking action on a potential risk, pause and think of the consequences. She told her son, “Practice a pause.” Taking deep breaths was his way.

    While speaking of memories of her son, starting from his birth, sharing pictures, including his social media posts, and stories of him over the years, Niss got teary eyed. Her voice trembled. Niss learned to live life through the good and the bad with Eric-John, her first born and oldest of six children.

    “Eric-John loved the water,” Niss said. She showed a video her son sent her from the ocean. She told the audience that she repeated the beach warnings every time he headed out to the water. She said that he told her he was doing everything he was briefed, and reassured her. However, what was missing was that she had never thought about wearing a floatation vest.

    Cpl. Jordan Snell, 3D Intelligence Battalion, III Marine Expeditionary Force, said that hearing Niss’ story made him think about himself. He reflected on himself saying that he has always been a strong swimmer, so even though he brought a life jacket, he has never really thought of using it until he heard her story.

    When her story reached the point of her receiving news from Okinawa that her son had gone missing in a distant country, and as she described how she felt day by day until his body was found, her voice sounded as if she was crying, as many in the audience sobbed as well.

    Col. Jeffrey L. Hammond, deputy commander, MCIPAC, who was the commanding officer of Headquarters and Support Battalion when the Eric-John incident happened, contacted Niss about her missing son. In recalling the incident, Hammond said, “she’s far away. She doesn’t know what’s going on. We called her a couple times a day, the goal was to help her feel as involved as she was able to be.”

    At the end of each session, numerous members of the audience walked up to her to thank her and offer condolences for the loss of her son. Snell also lined up after the session. He wanted to thank Niss for her bravery for continuing to talk about her loss.

    “She has to relive it every time she talks about it,” said Snell. “But she does it for others, not for herself. It’s like she’s living by his (Eric-John’s) last Facebook post, which stated ‘those who help you when they’re struggling. That’s what love is.’ She’s really sharing love by his definition.”

    “I’m a mom bound by nature,” Niss said.

    She felt heard and said that even if the service members took away just a simple little sliver of the message, it is so worth it.

    She called it a real ripple effect. If a Marine shares her story of her son with another Marine who was unable to attend and hears her message, and remembers to be careful, that Marine is a part of the ripple effect. She hopes that those who heard her story continue being the ripple.

    “It grabbed my heart!” exclaimed Sgt. Rodney Shirrel of Motor Transportation, 3rd Battalion, 12th Marine Regiment. He said that her story helped people understand that you have to take precautions and you cannot take the water as a joke because it can be a dangerous place.

    Hammond said that to this day, he thinks about what he could have done to prevent the tragedy. “If I just spent a little bit more time on water safety talking, to me, it would only take maybe a couple more minutes, maybe it would have resonated, maybe it would’ve made an impact, and maybe we wouldn’t have had this situation.”

    “There’s nothing more difficult in life than calling someone’s mother trying to tell her that he’s not coming home. I would do anything that I could to not have to make that call,” said Hammond.

    However, he knew that it would be more impactful for service members to hear it from Niss than to hear it over and over again from their leaders, because her message would be bigger than just water safety.

    Hammond stated that Niss conveyed to the audience that they were much more important to their families, friends, and to their units than they could ever imagine. He continued that, unfortunately, it took a situation like this for them to see how impactful they were and how missed they would be.

    “They (service members) forget how important they are. They’re just doing the day in and day out,” expressed Niss. “There is definitely someone that will be affected if you don’t come home. That’s the baseline of it all. So do what you can to be safe.”

    Curtis, safety director, said “it doesn’t matter who you are. As a human, this relates to you. As a Marine, as a Sailor, this story is native to your experience. As a child, and as a parent, it’s related. It personalizes and cuts to the bone.”

    At the safety booth outside, U.S. Navy Seaman Patrick Forbes, 3d Medical Battalion, from Camp Foster, said, “that presentation that she gave was very touching. I know that every time at least when I go out, it’s going to be in the back of my mind. Probably take those extra safety precautions, take a pause.”

    The six-day long training, which consisted of 14 sessions concluded on May 26 at Camp Kinser, with nearly 5000 Marines and Sailors from all over Okinawa, and a little over 1000 students from Kubasaki and Kadena High Schools, participated.

    The Marine Corps requires each unit conduct mandatory pre-liberty safety brief before every weekend. Especially when summer approaches, a lot of units focus on water safety. On top of that, one of the topics at the Newcomers Orientation Welcome Aboard brief when new Marines arrive at Okinawa is water safety.

    More information on water safety can be read at




     ニスさんの講演は、年一回実施される、安全キャンペーン ー 戦没将兵追悼記念日(5月の最終月曜日)の週末から労働者の日(9月の第1月曜日)の週末までの間の「クリティカル・デイズ・オブ・サマー(夏の重要な日)」ー の一環である。








     ニスさんが強調したかったのは、エリック・ジョン伍長に幼い頃から教えていた「いったん立ち止まる練習」だった。動揺したとき、危機に陥ったとき、あるいは潜在的なリスクに対して行動を起こす前に、一旦立ち止まって、ひと呼吸置いて結果を考えなさい。彼女は息子に 「立ち止まる練習をしなさい」と言った。深呼吸をすることが彼の方法だった。
























    Date Taken: 09.05.2023
    Date Posted: 09.26.2023 18:35
    Story ID: 454172
    Location: OKINAWA, JP

    Web Views: 124
    Downloads: 0