(Click on the “Latest Reports” link above for, well, the latest reports)
Hello everyone! Welcome to Operation Soccer Chopper (OSC). My name is Princeton, I’m a UH-60 Blackhawk helicopter pilot serving in Afghanistan. I’m assigned to the 82nd Airborne Division from Fort Bragg, North Carolina and my unit is currently serving with Task Force Desert Hawk, a National Guard Unit from Arizona.
My original introduction was posted on a scrapbooking website my wife Nicole is a member of. There has been such a large response to the Operation that we’ve decided to start a blog to let those who are not members of that site know what we’re doing.
Here’s a brief history about how this whole thing started…
I’ve been flying a lot around here and I’ve noticed that as we fly over most of the villages there are a bunch of people that love to play soccer and volleyball. Who would’ve thunk it…volleyball? I can see soccer being a popular sport since so many people play it all across the world, but volleyball? It seems a bit strange.
A few weeks ago another helicopter from our battalion that’s based out of a different airfield stopped by to drop off and wait for their passengers. While they were waiting, the crew walked up to the perimeter fence and chatted with the kids that live just outside the base. The kids kept asking for a ball to play with. They had a football that a soldier gave them but they have no idea what to do with a football much less try to throw that thing. Volleyballs and soccer balls are easy…you just hit them or kick them. Baseballs require too many other pieces of equipment (gloves, bats, bases and such). I won’t even try to mention bowling. Can you imagine the trouble I’d get into if I dropped a bowling ball from my helicopter? Yeah, I mean you’d first have to have someone set up the pins first, then the ball would start veering off and it’ll end up being a gutter ball. All the guys would laugh at me.
I hope that what I’m trying to do is something that makes “us” a little less intimidating from the air and more of a friend. I don’t have much of an opportunity to land and interact with the local people. They only get to see us when we fly past and most of the kids try to throw rocks at us as we fly by. I’d like to try to change that image so that they are hoping that we’d drop something useful instead of fearing that we’re there to cause harm.
During WWII, COL Gail Halverson was known as the “Candy Bomber”. As part of the Berlin Airlift he dropped candy from his airplane. The candy had a little parachute made by a small handkerchief. I think it would be neat to do something like that. Instead of candy, I think Operation Soccer Chopper would be a fun thing to do. I’ve talked to the other soldiers in my unit and they’ll tell their family and friends about it and hopefully in a few weeks, we’ll be dropping all sorts of volleyballs and soccer balls all over Afghanistan.
Rules: the balls are not to be labeled with any type of religious symbols or decoration. I’m not trying to promote any type of action except give the children a ball to play with. This is NOT for political or religious gain or persuasion. References to Jesus, Christ, God or other type of religious symbols or icons shouldn’t be made. This Operation will be a concerted effort to bring a sense of friendship to the local people from the citizens of the U.S. without any expectation other than fostering a sense of goodwill. If the balls are used, and there’s someone’s name on it, please ensure that the last name isn’t on the ball. First names will be ok but I would like to avoid any problems that may occur from having someone’s full name or something inappropriate printed on the ball.
Please keep in mind that we fly in a combat zone and insurgents are everywhere. The security of my crew and my aircraft are my first priority during these drops. It is very possible that the area I drop a ball or two may be sympathetic to enemy forces in the area. So with that in mind, I would like to limit the information that may be printed on the ball.
If you plan to participate, you may send the balls deflated. I will inflate them when they arrive and give them a swift kick to make sure that they all work. Also, when you receive the address to my base, please do not post it in a public forum for security reasons. You may pass along my address to your friends and relatives, but please don’t post it for just anyone to see. Lastly, I plan to end the Operation at the end of December 2007 so there’s lots of time for everyone to participate.
Naturally, I will try to take photographs of as many drops as possible. I may not be able to write back to every person that sends a ball nor may I be able to send particular balls to particular areas. The only thing I can promise is photos and a few blog entries now and again. I will also try to do my best to take pictures of balls from those who sent them but keep in mind that I’m so absentminded that I may forget to do so. Please excuse my faults and accept my apologies for not being able to get a picture for everyone. I know how anxious many of you must be to get some pictures so I will do my best.
You can get my address by emailing me or my wife, Nicole at firstname.lastname@example.org. Be aware that my internet connection is temperamental. I will try to respond as best I can but sometimes my days can be long and busy, and my web access limited so I can’t always respond in a timely manner. Nicole will most likely respond to your emails for my address, but I will do my best to write when I can.
Thank you for participating. I hope the Operation becomes a success and we’re able to make some people happy in this small way.
The first reports of the drops were posted to my scrapbooking message board, before we realized we needed a more public forum to share them in. I will paste them below, and future updates will show up on the “latest reports” page.
**21 April 2007
The first mission to begin a plethora of Operation Soccer Chopper drops is complete with much success!
Let me begin by first thanking everyone who has sent and is planning to send soccer/volleyballs. Thank you! By the way, the thank you is NOT from me but from those wonderful kids and their smiling faces that I saw as we hovered over them and released the balls to the ground.
We started this morning with a flight that I was supposed to take in the immediate area surrounding the base. I generally stay within a few miles since I’m just doing some maintenance checks on the helicopter after some work had been done on it. After my maintenance checks were complete, we focused our attention on OSC.
We flew around the outlying areas of the town of Khowst looking for a good spot to drop our first ball. I didn’t realize that it was late morning and pretty close to noon. The midday heat wasn’t very hot but still within the 90s so there really weren’t too many kids outside playing on the soccer fields. Finally we came upon a group of cars parked along one of the riverbeds. We call the riverbeds around here a “wadi”. It gets a little dried up during the summer but flows during the winter and spring months. Near the group of cars that were parked on the wadi, we saw the kids playing. We had already set aside a number of balls to drop and picked the spot where we were going to hover. As we approached the field, I had my crew chief hold one of the balls out of his window with two hands so the kids could see what we had. At first they were puzzled until he released the ball. After that, there were kids running crazy trying to get to the ball. If you could only see what excitement there was when the ball hit the ground, you’d have a tear in your eye. My gunner who sits on the opposite side of the helicopter had a few kids on his side so he too put his ball up and the kids immediately saw it and started waving at him. He dropped his ball and kids went running everywhere trying to fetch it. It was an amazing experience. The look on each kids face was total delight. We started to kick up a pretty good dust cloud so I decided to leave the area and head back to the base. On the trip back, all we could say to ourselves was “That was AWESOME!”. We then all agreed that we’d have to take a second trip out after lunch when the temperature got a little cooler. Believe me, we did.
After lunch, we got back in the helicopter and started in different direction. It didn’t take too long before we found what looked like a small school and a few kids playing in a grassy field. We decided to make a fly by and see where would be the best spot to stop and drop the balls. The school was just beside the wadi and there was a lot of grass so the dust would be minimal. When we started our approach toward the kids we started to scare them so I called out to my crew chief to immediately hold the ball up outside the helicopter so the kids could see it. Once the kids saw that we had the ball and we wanted to drop it, they came running. This time, it was different though. Out of nowhere, all of a sudden, there came kids running from everywhere. We had just stirred up a hornet’s nest. After my crew chief dropped his ball I had the gunner on the other side drop his. I saw the ball fall right toward this boy who looked like he was about 10 years old. It hit the ground and bounced right over his head. There was a group of about 5 or 6 that started running for it. If you could only see their faces! They were waving and jumping in pure excitement! What a wonderful experience it was too see such happy kids! It was in the middle of the second drop that I realized we needed more balls. There were so many kids out there. I’ve never seen that many kids out here before.
I’m sorry I couldn’t take more closer pictures of the faces. I was flying, the other pilot I had with me was fairly new and he was taking pictures with his camera. I had hoped that his pictures would come out larger so that we could get a better glimpse of the kids. I will try better to take closer pictures next time.
Thank you all! Thank you for letting me experience such wonderful memories! Kids are kids and its a pleasure to see them so happy in spite of all the horrible things they have to deal with here. One soccer ball can make a big difference.
Thank you all for participating! You are all AWESOME!
23 April 2007
Hello OSC fans!
I have some good news and some bad news today. The good news is that another episode of Operation Soccer Chopper has been completed with even greater success! The bad news is that we were so successful at the drop that I am in need of more balls. Here’s the story…
I started my day very early in the morning for another task that was aside from OSC. After I completed my duties for the early morning, I focused my attention to the soccer balls still in my possession. There was another helicopter that had gone through some minor repairs and needed to be flown to check its airworthiness. It was my job to do it so I gathered my crew and loaded the soccer balls into the helicopter and started our flight. Our maintenance checks took a few minutes to complete and when we were done, we started looking for kids to begin our drop. It didn’t take long. We purposefully avoided the areas we were yesterday but it seemed apparent that the word must’ve gotten out that there was a helicopter dropping soccer balls yesterday because as soon as the kids saw us flying lower than usual, they all started waving as if they already knew what was about to happen. The stirring of the hornet’s nest had begun before we even started. We first approached a small village on the outskirts of town where there was a small group of kids right about the age of 8 to 10 years old. Yesterday, when we approached the kids, they all ran as if we were there to do harm. Today, they started waving and running toward us almost immediately! Incredible! If I recall in my earlier post at the beginning of this Operation, one of my goals was to let the people understand that we’re not here to cause harm but to bring freedom and happiness in some small way. Once the first ball was dropped, kids started running from all directions to get closer. As soon as we dropped one ball, kids darted to and fro trying to get it. You wouldn’t believe how high a soccer ball bounces when it’s dropped from 150 feet! Such delight filled their faces. Smiles were abundant and for a brief moment, it didn’t matter what country you were from, what religion you practiced, or what elected official you supported. Everyone wanted a ball. If only I had permission to land at these places and hand a ball to each kid. For now, we will all have to be satisfied with the drop and seeing their faces from a distance. As we dropped the first two balls, we moved to an area that was a little farther away so that the kids that were watching from a distance could participate as well. It almost felt like we were the Pied Piper. Tons of kids following us everywhere we went. The crew that I flew with today was different than yesterday so this was all new to them. Yesterday, all we could say was “That was AWESOME!” today the buzz word was “That was COOL!”. Indeed it is. Awesome, Cool, Fantastic, Incredible, you name it, that’s what it is. We got so carried away that we kept moving from place to place in about a 2 mile area to drop balls. Every time we made a turn, there were more kids outside waving at us. We kept dropping balls until we ran out. I’ll repeat the phrase that I’ve said in my previous post…we’re gonna need more balls. Of course, this is NOT a demand…don’t get me wrong, I would love to have more balls and after witnessing the amount of kids yesterday and today, I realized that just because we don’t see how many people there are in these villages doesn’t mean that the kids don’t exist. It is rare that we have any interaction with children. I’m so very thankful that all of you have given me this opportunity to share some amount of kindness and charity to these children that we don’t know. I didn’t keep count of how many balls were dropped but I do know that we had a lot. There was easily over 30 balls and we delivered them all. I know there are others in my unit who have now emailed their family and friends to send more balls our way. Indeed its been an amazing experience.
Thank you! Thank you all from all of these wonderful kids out here in the middle of Afghanistan!