- Associated Press - Sunday, February 23, 2014

STILLWATER, Okla. (AP) - Home-schooled on a farm near Stillwater, Andrew Handley wanted to see the world. After high school, he joined the Navy, leaving land-locked Oklahoma behind. Serving in the military for just one year, Mineman Seaman Handley from the Navy Munitions Command East Asia Division in Misawa, Japan, was hand-picked as a goodwill ambassador for the 65th Annual Sapporo Snow Festival in Hokkaido, Japan.

Handley, 20, joined a group of sailors belonging to United States Naval Air Facility Misawa and its tenant commands to represent the Navy and construct a snow sculpture which was displayed at the festival. The seven sailors are members of the 2014 Navy Misawa Snow Team, which traveled from mainland Japan to Hokkaido Island, so they could build the sculpture for the city’s annual event. This year marks the 31st year that NAF Misawa has sent a team to Sapporo to represent the command and the U.S. Navy.

The team, nicknamed “the Sapporo Seven,” is comprised of Navy Misawa sailors who continually demonstrate a strong work ethic, while embodying the Navy core values. They must also have solid communication skills, and be an outgoing and friendly person.

“All the commands picked their top sailors,” Handley said.

He said it took five days to create the sculpture. All the team members were originally from warm-weather areas of the United States so they didn’t grow up with a lot of experience in the snow. None of them ever had sculpted anything.

But experience notwithstanding, the team embraced the challenge.

The Sapporo Seven decided to sculpt a three-dimensional version of the U.S. Navy Seabee’s famous “Fighting Bee” emblem to continue the tradition of using Navy-inspired themes that the festival spectators may not know much about. The Navy Seabees are celebrating their 72nd birthday, March 5, and their philosophy of “can do” seemed fitting to the task, Handley told the Stillwater NewsPress (https://bit.ly/1jLYKsM ).

The team sculpted a six-foot-by-six-foot block of compacted snow that the festival organizers placed in the city’s Odori Park. Using axes, chisels, and even at times, a chainsaw, the Sapporo Seven eventually whittled down the block into a roundish shape, that somewhat resembled a bee.

They diligently worked to shape the block of ice into a bee and by the third day, people were walking by while they were sculpting and saying “hachi,” which is Japanese for “bee.” Detail work continued to shape their frosty 3-D bee into a fighting bee.

Throughout the build, the team had to persevere through erratic weather patterns that saw temperatures rise toward 40 degrees Fahrenheit, only to be replaced a few hours later by howling winds, horizontal-blowing snow, and sub-freezing temperatures.

“Sort of like it’s been in Oklahoma lately,” Handley said as he keeps in close contact with his family, parents Randy and Gayle Handley and sister Emma. They frequently come into town to visit his fiancé’s family in Stillwater. He misses them but he’s having a great adventure in Japan.

Handley said the Japanese people were very welcoming and the team was hosted by the Japan Ground Self-Defense Force from Camp Sapporo who “really take care of us.”

With the Fighting Bee complete, the snow team maintained it and spent time in front of the sculpture interacting with the more than two million spectators at this year’s festival. The Sapporo Seven stood ready to answer questions, pose for photos, sign autographs, administer handshakes and bestow high-fives and fist bumps.

Handley said it was a great reward from the daily routine and he will be sad to see the ice sculpture melt.


Information from: Stillwater News Press, https://www.stwnewspress.com

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