Marines visit JP by land, air and tree

John Ruch

Photo Courtesy Andrew Joslin
A group of US Marines prepares to scale a tall tree in Franklin Park on May 7 under the guidance of local tree-climbing expert Andrew Joslin (center, in helmet). Michael Watts of the Franklin Park Coalition (far left) joined the group.

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Marine Week Boston brought US Marines to Jamaica Plain by land and air early this month. Marines volunteered in cleanups of local parks, and even joined in some grown-up tree-climbing, but were not so welcome as they buzzed the neighborhood in military helicopters.

Marine Week, which ran May 3-9, brought a wide array of US Marine Corps programs and hardware to Boston, including helicopter landings on Boston Common.

Christine Poff, executive director of the Franklin Park Coalition, ordered about 15 Marines to repel an invasion—of weeds. The Marines “cleared huge amounts” of the “invasive species” from Franklin Park on May 6 and 7, and worked in Olmsted Park as well.

The Marines hailed from all around the country, Poff said, adding that many of them “had barely been to the city, let alone New England.”

As a special treat, the Marines got a lesson in high-tech tree-climbing from Andrew Joslin, a local expert in the art, which is more akin to mountain-climbing. Using a system of ropes, Joslin showed the Marines how to climb a tall tree in Franklin Park.

While Marines get lots of climbing practice—such as hanging from ropes out of helicopters over Afghanistan—technical tree-climbing was new to them, Joslin said. And such motivated, well-trained climbers was new to him.

“I’ve never had such good climbers in such good condition,” said Joslin, who also conducts tree climbs for youth groups and other civilians. “I think I got as much out of it as they did.”

Joslin got tree-climbing on the agenda when, earlier this year, he was told that, “Christine Poff is meeting the Marines at Fiore’s,” the bakery and coffee shop on South Street. She was arranging the volunteerism details.

For those who encountered the Marines only by helicopter, the experience was not necessarily as much fun.

“I felt almost like I was living in a war zone,” said JP resident Virginia Pratt of the “spooky-looking” helicopter that pounded the Washington Street area with noise on the afternoon of May 7.

The Gazette observed two low-flying, noisy helicopters over central JP around 12:30 p.m. on May 7. One was clearly a military attack helicopter. The other helicopter appeared to have someone standing in an open side door as the aircraft flew very low over JP.

Aircraft noise and pollution have been regular issues in JP—including a proposal three years ago for Boston Police helicopter patrols to take off and land from Franklin Park.

The Gazette got no response to questions sent to a Marine Week e-mail address, and the event’s contact phone number led to a full voicemail box.

In a generally left-leaning neighborhood, and in the midst of two controversial wars, the visit by the Marines drew an array of emotions. All of the Marines who worked in the park were recently returned from duty in Iraq, according to Poff.

Pratt said that, aside from the noise, the helicopter flyovers offended her in terms of pollution, a display of military aggression and expense.

She noted that the city is struggling to fund libraries, schools and youth jobs. “But they’ve got plenty of money to just basically be having a show of this military equipment,” she said, calling it “obscene.”

Joslin is the son of a Marine and is a self-described “ardent anti-war pacifist.”

“But these Marines I put in a tree were great guys,” he added, explaining that it is important for those on the left to distinguish between opposing war and supporting the troops. “These are warriors, but on the other hand, they’re really young,” he said.

“We didn’t get into a lot of politics and the war and our presence there,” Poff said, adding that in terms of Iraq, the Marines mostly spoke favorably of the people there.

“We heard great stories about how warm and hospitable [the Iraqis] are to them,” she said.

Their unusual background aside, the Marines were no different from the other volunteer groups who regularly work in Franklin Park, such as JP’s Neighborhood School and Harvard Pilgrim Health Care, Poff said. All the groups have to be trained the same, and do the same work, she said.

Then Poff laughed and added, “Actually, [the Marines] got more done.”

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