Friday, May 20, 2005

American Soldiers, Soccer and Iraqi Kids

An American Soldier in Iraq named Michael writes a very interesting blog called A Day In Iraq. He's a very fine writer and fine example of the modern American Soldier.

Michael puts himself in harms way voluntarily on a daily basis. In his off time, which is seldom, he concerns himself with how he can help to improve the life of Iraqi kids. Recently he came up with an idea of starting a drive to get soccer balls to as may Iraqi children as he can.

The idea is not a new one as many other American Soldiers have come up with the same thing. However what is so compelling about Michael's idea is the amount of heart and thought that went into it. You can read about it here:

Operation Soccer Ball

I was sitting on guard the other night, trying desperately to do something productive, or at least think of something productive to get me through the four hours of boredom. I started thinking about all the good things that are happening in Iraq, the things that you’ll never hear about on your nightly news or read about in your morning newspaper. Whether the terrorists, the media, or misinformed public know it or not, democracy in Iraq is on the move. Like a freight train, whose momentum can’t be slowed, so it is with freedom and democracy in Iraq. There is no stopping it. It’s no longer The Little Engine That Could, crying out “I think I can, I think I can, I think I can.”Iraq is now the Big Engine that Did, having already climbed the mountain of heartache and sorrow to reach the plateau of promise, the view of peace and prosperity in its sights, flourishing in the valley below. There is still work to be done though. That train is still on the plateau, but I have no doubt it will soon reach the downward slope, momentum taking over, propelling it downward, with nothing to impede its progress down the prosperous path in its future.

Maybe it’s naive of me to think I can do something to help it reach that slope, but I’ll be damned if I don’t try. Sure we’re out here fighting the good fight, pursuing the bad guys in every corner of Iraq. Sure we’re building schools, rebuilding infrastructure, helping restore pride in Iraqis for their country. Sure we’re helping to establish and nurture a government from its infancy to one that will soon be heard on the world stage. Sure we’re spreading good old fashion American Goodwill throughout Iraq, as only our great country can. Naysayer’s be damned, I’m proud of what we’re doing in Iraq, and I’m proud to be a small part of it. The critics can sit on the sidelines like cackling hyenas’, salivating over the misfortunes and casualties of this war, but we’re in the arena actually doing something. You’re doing something. The good old US of A is doing something to make Iraq and the world a better, safer, more prosperous place to live. But I want to do something more. I look forward to every time I go outside these gates, the opportunity to hunt down a terrorist driving me onward. It’s why I signed up, why I don’t mind being over here away from my family for a year. Sure I may voice my frustrations on this blog, but those frustrations aren’t meant to diminish the honor I feel in serving our country and helping the people of Iraq. This blog may be nothing more than the inane rambling of a wanta be writer, with no value to its author or readers, but maybe I can turn it into something of value, something good and worthwhile. So that’s when I came up with an idea.

What are the Iraqi people in general, and the Iraqi children in particular, passionate about? In a word, soccer. Actually it’s football to them, but we know it as soccer. They have more passion for the game of soccer than we ever thought of having for football or baseball. I’ve yet to meet a child, or an adult for that matter, who doesn’t have at least some interest in the game of soccer. Forget bowl season, the World Series, March Madness, and the Super Bowl, they don’t care. Their ‘Field of Dreams’ isn’t a baseball field in the middle of an Iowa cornfield. Their ‘Field of Dreams’ is a soccer field in any open area of Iraq. Streets, fields, farms, the dusty ground off the side of the road, or the lush green land of a farm. On sand or on pavement, no place is safe from the stampeding feet of Iraqis chasing a soccer ball. In every mission I’ve been on, I’ve never once failed to witness a game of soccer.

On one overcast evening, before the sun had fully set, I saw a group of men divided into teams, each wearing bright pastel jerseys. These jerseys contrasted beautifully against the tall green grass and the light gray color of the cloud filled sky. There was something electric about the whole scene, reminding me of Saturday night football games on a college campus in America during the fall. I’ve seen this same scene through the thermal sights of my Bradley, each player a bright red figure, indicating the heat radiating from their body as they chase the precious ball. More often the scene is of children in rags playing on the dry hard packed dirt of a schoolyard. They’re all passionately chasing that elusive soccer ball.

If they don’t have a soccer ball they’ll use anything as a substitute. I’ve seen kids kicking around a rock with as much passion and glee than if they were playing in the World Championship. They need soccer balls, and I want to give them one. What a better way to convey the goodwill of America and American soldiers than by giving them the soccer balls that they so desperately desire. You want to continue to win the hearts and minds of Iraqis, give them the tool that will enable them to do something they love. Besides guns and ammo, every humvee, tank, truck, Bradley, Stryker, and helicopter should come armed with soccer balls as well. How I would love to be standing out the top of my humvee, having the guys below feed soccer balls up to me, so I could then throw them to any children I pass. Why not airplanes too? I can picture C130's flying over cities and towns throughout Iraq, dropping soccer balls from its cargo hold with little parachutes attached to each one. It’s doable. Crazier things have happened. Or have helicopters hover over a school during recess and drop a bunch of soccer balls to the delight of the kids below. We can rain down hellfire on the heads of terrorists, turn around, and shower the good people of Iraq with peace in the form of a soccer ball. The love of sports, in this case soccer, can be an instrument of peace and a bond that is common to us all. It will transcend our cultural differences and our languages. It will also mitigate the feelings of some Iraqis that see our presence in their land as aggravating.

Imagine the anticipation, the childlike excitement, that would fill the hearts of thousands of children upon seeing a U.S. soldier, or vehicle, delivering the gift of soccer balls. Sure the children need school supplies, clothes, and shoes, but what would you rather have as a kid. I can’t begin to count how many times kids have asked me, “Mister football.”Those other items are important. I’m not discounting that, but there are plenty of other organizations that are doing good work supplying them. There’s something wrong when it’s easier for a kid to get their hands on an AK that it is a soccer ball. Terrorists are a dying breed. Who are these kids going to look up to more? People who bring chaos and terror into their lives, or Americans who bring peace and soccer balls?

So how can I do this. How can I get soccer balls into the hands of Iraqis? I’m open for suggestions. I thought about a website that would help facilitate getting soccer balls from Americans back home to the soldiers here in Iraq. I was thinking of some kind of forum or message board based site linking people with soldiers, but I don’t have the time or expertise to accomplish something like that. We would have to have some way of spreading the wealth around all of Iraq. I don’t want just one area of Iraq receiving soccer balls. I want every corner of Iraq covered. Maybe everyone living east of the Mississippi River could send balls to soldiers or units stationed east of the Tigris River and vice versa. Of course, not only would we need people willing to send soccer balls, but also soldiers willing to receive them and distribute them. I don’t think there would be a problem with soldiers distributing them once they received them, but the problem would be to get addresses of soldiers or units. Or maybe it wouldn’t. I don’t know.

Maybe we could get the Department of Defense involved in some way. That would be ideal. They could be a clearing house for the delivery of the balls into Iraq and spreading them throughout. Maybe the Honorable Secretary Rumsfeld would sign off on it. He may think it’s a good idea. The DOD could set up a place for everyone in the states to send their soccer balls. The DOD could even donate their own soccer balls. Forget the $160,000 new sight that our Bradley needs. We can use another Bradley in our platoon, which we’ve been doing anyway. Put the money toward soccer balls. How many can that buy? Close to 20,000. Buying soccer balls with that money would do more for the war effort than that one Bradley ever would. Who needs a Bradley? I’d rather go out in humvees anyway. Hell, I’d rather go out on a bicycle. Forget about the most wanted playing cards. Why not put the faces of the most wanted on those 20,000 soccer balls. Imagine thousands of Iraqi kids kicking around a ball with Zarqawi’s likeness on it. That would be a beautiful sight. This culture frowns upon showing someone the bottom of your feet or placing one’s foot on another person. It would help foster contempt for terrorists and manage to humiliate each person on the most wanted list.

Corporations could get involved as well. They could place their logo on each ball. Imagine the exposure and positive publicity they would receive after donating a few thousand balls. Nike would be a good one. Come on Phil, how about 5,000 balls with a big swoosh emblazoned on each one. Microsoft and Mr. Gates could buy a ball for every person in Iraq, but I’ll settle for another 5,000. They could mark each one with the name of their latest software. The possibilities are endless. What a great way for New York City to win its bid in hosting the 2012 Olympics than by sending 5,000 soccer balls with New York 2012 stamped on each one. I think Paris is in the running as well. France wanted nothing to do with the war, but they could send soccer balls to help with the peace. They might even manage to earn my respect again. Hollywood could get involved too. You know those movie stars, they’re always looking for some charity to attach their names to. High school and college soccer teams could donate used soccer balls. These kids don’t care if it’s used, anything is better than a rock. Web sites hoping for that elusive exposure could donate as well.

How about the blogging community. Glenn could send a bunch of instaballs. Drudge could spread the word throughout the world in one hour. The military blogging community in particular could help spread the word.

I bet Greyhawk and his wife wouldn’t mind spreading the word. We could get traditional media outlets involved as well. They could at least help spread the word. More than any of these, I need you. I need you to spread the word. I need you to contact any soldier that you know serving in Iraq. I need you to donate balls. I don’t care if we get 100 or one million balls into the hands of the Iraqi children. Each one will make a difference. We soldiers can only get so many packages filled with snacks, baby wipes, magazines, and other nonessential items. Don’t get me wrong, these packages are greatly appreciated, but I bet the majority of us wouldn’t mind sacrificing a few packages for a soccer ball that we can pass on to some kid.

Every kid should have a soccer ball, even the girls, especially the girls. They are the most precious segment of the Iraqi population. We could start an Iraqi women’s soccer movement. Why not? It could help liberate them from the background of obscurity that this society already places them in, even at a young age. I want to be able to give a soccer ball to that shy little girl standing behind the boys, watching her angelic face become a bright shining light as I reach over the boy’s head’s to place a ball into her hands. Of course there will be so many balls that the boys standing in front of her will have already received one. Maybe one day they can field an Iraqi women’s Olympic soccer team. They could make their entrance onto the world stage at the 2012 Summer Olympics in New York City.

You may think all of this is impossible, but I don’t. When I dream, I dream big. If you’re going to dream, might as well dream big. So I’d thought about all of this and wrote it down on paper when I decided to do a search on the internet for any similar plan out there. I went to google, typed in operation soccer ball and hit the search button. Guess what? Yep, three different pages appeared in the search results here, here, and here. I was amazed, and yet not surprised that someone would have thought of this before me. You can read the stories yourself, but one in particular really amazed me. Some Kiowa pilots from the 1st Cavalry Division had actually been dropping soccer balls from their helicopters after completing their mission’s. They even dubbed their little project Operation Soccer Ball. Are you kidding me? There are pilots out there that are actually willing to do it. One story in particular really stuck out.

“I remember this one time when we came down, ready to drop a few balls and we see this kid standing off in the distance. He had his arm cocked back to his ear, just ready to hurl a rock at us. I pulled one of the balls out and tossed it to him. The kid just stood there for a second, like he really wasn’t sure what to do, but then he dropped that rock, grabbed the ball and gave us the thumbs up. That was cool,” Chief Warrant Officer Sonny Hinchman, Kiowa pilot.

Man, that’s beautiful. At first I was a little frustrated to read that others had the same idea before me. I felt like I was arriving late to the party. Then I thought, well why not take it to the next level. I’ll be the guy that arrives fashionably late, kicking off the party in style. They say they’ve procured 1000 soccer balls. That’s wonderful but nowhere close to the number of balls that we can and should provide for these people. These men can claim all the credit for starting the project. I don’t care. I want no credit. Maybe we can make a difference together.

You can read more of Michael's excellent posts at