FORT HUNTER LIGGETT, Calif. --
Marines from the 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit beautified the grounds of Mission San Antonio de Padua March 26 - April 6.
Thirty-four Marines and sailors volunteered, many on a daily basis, and contributed more than 325 hours to give the mission back its historic appearance.
“The Marines have definitely set the bar high,” said Joan Steele, the mission’s general manager.
The mission, founded July 14, 1771, is the third-oldest in California and the only one not impacted by developing cities – the nearest being King City, 29 miles away.
Tasks accomplished by the Marines included cleaning and rearranging the interior of the church, landscaping the grounds, and assisting with the preparation and cleanup of the mission’s second annual Mission Days Festival. Marines were careful not to disturb the ruins.
“They’re a godsend,” Steele said. As she looked around at the sunlit grounds where the Marines had helped to landscape she remarked, “They look terrific.”
The Marines were at Fort Hunter Liggett for training leading up to their deployment later this year. The mission, located within the Army base, was a perfect volunteer opportunity for the Marines, said Petty Officer 1st Class Juan Bejarano, the MEU’s religious programs specialist. “We’re going to be doing this overseas in other countries, so why not do the same thing in our own country,” he said.
The timing couldn’t be better, said Bejarano. The mission’s second annual Mission Days Festival came at the tail end of the training. On April 4 the Marines work was on display for more than 1,000 visitors.
“It felt good to give back to the community,” said Cpl. Michael Smyth, a volunteer from the MEU’s command element. “I was honored.”
The Marines volunteered for many of the tasks at the festival including parking lot duties and serving food. Smyth and Pfc. Darrin Workman, another volunteer, helped to serve 350 pounds of steak, 50 pounds of beans, 50 pounds of rice, and 1,000 tortillas.
The work the Marines accomplished not only made the mission grounds more beautiful, but safer. Removing the overgrown brush has reduced the risk of fire and made identifying snakes and other wildlife easy, said Robert Hoover, an archaeologist who held a six-week college course at the mission every year from 1976 to 2004.
The contribution of the Marines has made the task of learning basic archaeology easier because it’s not as hard to see the small things, Hoover said. He then looked around and remarked, “This place has never looked better.”