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Lady Shoguns Defend Title

Jessica Bone and Sherry Sawyer, Kadena Shoguns’s Women’s Dragon Boat Team members, hold up a trophy for placing first in their heat May 5, 2017, at Naha Port, Japan. The Kadena Shoguns Women’s Dragon Boat Team defeated the Army’s and Navy’s women’s dragon boat teams to defend their title of best military women’s dragon boat team. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Omari Bernard)

Jessica Bone and Sherry Sawyer, Kadena Shoguns’s Women’s Dragon Boat Team members, hold up a trophy for placing first in their heat May 5, 2017, at Naha Port, Japan. The Kadena Shoguns Women’s Dragon Boat Team defeated the Army’s and Navy’s women’s dragon boat teams to defend their title of best military women’s dragon boat team. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Omari Bernard)

The Kadena Shoguns Women’s Dragon Boat Team races to victory May 5, 2017, at Naha Port, Japan. The women’s team had the 14th fastest time of the day out of 51 competing teams. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Omari Bernard)

The Kadena Shoguns Women’s Dragon Boat Team races to victory May 5, 2017, at Naha Port, Japan. The women’s team had the 14th fastest time of the day out of 51 competing teams. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Omari Bernard)

The Kadena Shoguns Women’s Dragon Boat Team digs deep to finish their heat at the 43rd Annual Naha Dragon Boat Race May 5, 2017, at Naha Port, Japan. The team won their heat against the Army’s and Navy’s women’s dragon boat teams. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Omari Bernard)

The Kadena Shoguns Women’s Dragon Boat Team digs deep to finish their heat at the 43rd Annual Naha Dragon Boat Race May 5, 2017, at Naha Port, Japan. The team won their heat against the Army’s and Navy’s women’s dragon boat teams. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Omari Bernard)

The Kadena Shoguns Men’s Dragon Boat Team digs deep during the 43rd Annual Naha Dragon Boat races May 5, 2017, at Naha Port, Japan. The men’s dragon boat team placed 13th out of the 51 teams that competed that day. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Omari Bernard)

The Kadena Shoguns Men’s Dragon Boat Team digs deep during the 43rd Annual Naha Dragon Boat races May 5, 2017, at Naha Port, Japan. The men’s dragon boat team placed 13th out of the 51 teams that competed that day. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Omari Bernard)

The Kadena Shoguns Men’s Dragon Boat Team warms up before their race at the 43rd Annual Naha Dragon Boat Race May 5, 2017 at Naha Port, Japan. The team practiced rowing in sync, which helps propel the boat at a faster speed during the race. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Omari Bernard)

The Kadena Shoguns Men’s Dragon Boat Team warms up before their race at the 43rd Annual Naha Dragon Boat Race May 5, 2017 at Naha Port, Japan. The team practiced rowing in sync, which helps propel the boat at a faster speed during the race. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Omari Bernard)

A dragon boat team member dressed in Ryuku traditional garb cheers on her teammates during the Naha Dragon Boat Race May 5, 2017, at Naha Port, Japan. The dragon boat teams, composed of 32 rowers, board long fiberglass boats painted to resemble mythical seafaring dragons. The race lasts less than 5 minutes as teams push their bodies to the limit. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Omari Bernard)

A dragon boat team member dressed in Ryuku traditional garb cheers on her teammates during the Naha Dragon Boat Race May 5, 2017, at Naha Port, Japan. The dragon boat teams, composed of 32 rowers, board long fiberglass boats painted to resemble mythical seafaring dragons. The race lasts less than 5 minutes as teams push their bodies to the limit. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Omari Bernard)

Okinawan dragon boat teams compete at the Naha Dragon Boat Race May 5, 2017, at Naha Port, Japan. Local community members, businesses and military members form teams each year to compete and build camaraderie during the largest dragon boat race on the island. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Omari Bernard)

Okinawan dragon boat teams compete at the Naha Dragon Boat Race May 5, 2017, at Naha Port, Japan. Local community members, businesses and military members form teams each year to compete and build camaraderie during the largest dragon boat race on the island. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Omari Bernard)

Spectators watch in anticipation as an official waves a flag, signaling the start of a heat during the Naha Dragon Boat Race May 5, 2017, at Naha Port, Japan. Months of hard work, long practices and extensive conditioning goes into competing for the Kadena Shoguns men’s and women’s dragon boat teams each year for the more than 30 members on each team. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Omari Bernard)

Spectators watch in anticipation as an official waves a flag, signaling the start of a heat during the Naha Dragon Boat Race May 5, 2017, at Naha Port, Japan. Months of hard work, long practices and extensive conditioning goes into competing for the Kadena Shoguns men’s and women’s dragon boat teams each year for the more than 30 members on each team. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Omari Bernard)

Thousands of spectators watch teams compete during the 43rd Annual Naha Dragon Boat Race May 5, 2017, at Naha Port, Japan. The Naha Dragon Boat Race is the largest dragon boat race on Okinawa with more than 50 competing teams. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Omari Bernard)

Thousands of spectators watch teams compete during the 43rd Annual Naha Dragon Boat Race May 5, 2017, at Naha Port, Japan. The Naha Dragon Boat Race is the largest dragon boat race on Okinawa with more than 50 competing teams. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Omari Bernard)

Kadena Air Base, Japan -- Each spring on Okinawa, wooden dragons soar through the sea as thousands of onlookers watch from Tomari Wharf in Naha City. Dozens of teams combat the sea, and their nerves, as each team member struggles to stroke in unison to the tune of a bronze gong that can barely be heard over the cheers of the crowd.

The Kadena Shoguns Dragon Boat Teams competed in the 43rd Annual Naha Hari May 5, 2017, at Tomari Wharf, Naha City, Japan.

At the beginning of every year, the men’s and women’s Kadena Shoguns Dragon Boat Teams begin to train for Okinawa’s largest dragon boat race. This year, the women’s defended their title for “best U.S. military all-women’s team” for the second year in a row.

“We start in January with physical conditioning,” said Sherry Sawyer, Kadena Shoguns Women’s Dragon Boat Team captain, “We hit the water in February at the Kadena Marina. There, we practice multiple times a week for more than several hours.”

Their hard work and dedication paid off when the Kadena Shoguns Women’s Dragon Boat Team defeated the Army’s and Navy’s women’s dragon boat teams in their heat and finished 14th overall out of 51 competing teams.

The men’s team finished 13th out of the 51 competing teams, behind the U.S. Army’s men’s and Japan Air Self Defense Force teams.

“Everyone had fun,” said U.S. Air Force Senior Master Sgt. Joe Hurt, Kadena Shoguns Men’s Dragon Boat Team captain. “The best part of this event is everyone living on Kadena coming together to form the teams and compete in this local tradition.”

Each member of the Kadena Shoguns Dragon Boat Teams took away something from competing in this part of Okinawan culture.

“The most rewarding part of completing this race is seeing each member on the team reach their potential,” Sawyer said. “At first they doubt themselves, but they come out to each practice and become stronger over the months. They build bonds and friendships. Some of the team members are brand new to the island and now have more than 30 friends. The best part, for me, is watching the team grow to become proud of themselves.”