Politics & Policy

Soccer Victories

This is what we're about.

There’s a story that has made its rounds here in Iraq. A Blackhawk helicopter is hovering low, running a mission in the Sunni Triangle. Alone in a field there’s a unkempt child of about twelveold. The boy, acting on everything his father has told him, looks up at the chopper with hatred in his eyes, picks up a rock and cocks his arm, ready to throw. But the gunner in the Blackhawk has something in his hand too, and he’s a bit quicker.

Whoosh! A soccer ball flies out of the door of the chopper. The boy stands in disbelief for a moment, and then collects himself enough to run after the ball. Once he retrieves it, he looks up and with a smile from ear to ear, and excitedly waves to the American soldiers in the Blackhawk.

Another friend is made; another member of the next generation is converted.

National Review Online is focusing on good news out of Iraq, and that includes inspiring examples of the Iraqi spirit. It’s too often forgotten, though, that this war has rekindled the spirit of people in America as well. That soccer ball found its way into the Blackhawk gunner’s hands because of the generosity of an American citizen back home. Someone who wanted to help out, who wanted to do what he could to improve things in Iraq, one person at a time. So he filled a few boxes with soccer balls, and spent the money to ship them over here for soldiers to hand out.

Soccer balls aren’t the only things being distributed. Candy and stuffed animals are tossed overboard from choppers and trucks. On patrols, soldiers deliver school supplies, clothes, and toys. On bases throughout the country, much-needed supplies are being given to Iraqi soldiers and policemen. All of this is courtesy of American civilians back home.

When I first arrived in Iraq I was working alongside Iraqi soldiers on guard duty. It was late January, on the night shift. It was cold–freezing cold. I wore three layers of clothing, gloves, winter socks, Gortex-lined boots, and my Kevlar helmet and flak-vest. The Iraqi soldiers wore ripped uniforms with thin undershirts, cheap socks, no gloves, and no helmets. It was dark outside, but they didn’t have flashlights.

I did what any other American soldier would do: I told people back home about it. Within weeks boxes and boxes of gifts came for the Iraqi soldiers, courtesy of Americans who had spent hundreds of dollars from their own pockets to buy the goods and ship them over. We outfitted the soldiers with new gloves, Mag-lights, sweaters, work socks, new undershirts, watches, and we even threw in some candy. To say they were grateful would be an understatement.

Iraqi soldiers are much better equipped now than before. Early in the year they would often roll out of the front gate of the base without flak-vests or helmets; there just weren’t enough to go around. Their uniforms were ragged and their vehicles were trash. Now they look like professionals. The base is overrun with new Iraqi-army pickups, many with gun mounts on the back. I see Iraqi soldiers fitted with flak-vests, new uniforms, and, most important, a confident look on their faces.

The generosity of people back home didn’t end with this initial flurry of support. Throughout the year I’ve been nearly overwhelmed with packages of things for the soldiers in my platoon, for the Iraqi soldiers, and for the locals. In fact, my platoon and I received more than 160 care packages from an ongoing donation drive organized by a single cousin of mine during the course of the year. These acts of generosity deserve to be reported just as much as an IED explosion.

Just a few months ago I received 25 large packages filled with stuffed animals and soccer balls. Because of that delivery, I and the crew on my base have been able to multiply the Blackhawk story related above. My comrades have been delivering these tokens of goodwill via airmail to the poor kids in across Iraq. The children receiving these gifts obviously enjoy them, but I think the Blackhawk crew may enjoy the delivery even more.

I understand some people in America are calling for us to come home, no matter the consequences. I understand some are wary of this conflict and their confidence is shaken. It’s difficult for a soldier to hear those things and not begin to question himself and his mission. But each time I receive a care package for my platoon, each time I receive a heartfelt note of support, and each time I see the look on an Iraqi citizen’s face–the result of a gift from back home–my faith in America is renewed.

Good things happen every day here in Iraq, and they’re also happening back home: a child’s writing a letter to one of us, a neighbor’s sending a package filled with things to remind soldiers of home, a soccer coach’s donating balls to be handed out to the children here. These are the things that make America worth fighting for.

Steven Kiel is an Army reservist currently serving in Iraq. He blogs from there at at www.stevenkiel.blogspot.com.

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