Hello OSC fans – today it’s me, Nicole, writing a quick entry to share some new photos, and to give an extra special thank you to Kim A and family who donated 100 balls!! We’ve been anxiously awaiting their arrival in Afghanistan, and they got there this week.

Filling up so many balls was definitely a team effort!
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What kid wouldn’t love to have a hundred soccer balls?? Even a big kid – who knows they aren’t his to keep?

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Good thing they don’t have to walk out to the helicopter!

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You’d think a bunch of grown men – rough and tough soldiers, no less – would be beyond wanting to use deflated soccer balls as goofy hats. But you’d be wrong. They’re all just little kids inside!

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So…we may never know how many balls it takes to fill up a US Army Blackhawk, but wouldn’t it be great to find out!
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Thanks to everyone who has helped us with this. Whether you sent one ball or a hundred balls, or something in between, please know that each and every ball goes to a child who will remember forever the day some US Soldiers dropped it from the sky into his life.

(And yes, I know most of the pictures are of Princeton. What can I say?? I really like him — and he’s the one with the camera, and a wife who is a compulsive scrapbooker!)

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Mother’s Day Drop!

13 May 2007

Happy Mother’s Day!!!

Aside from my being far away from home, today has been a very wonderful day! As a pilot, I’m usually up front flying. In past drops, I’ve given my camera to another person to take pictures of the event. My instructions are simple…take as many pictures as you can! Nicole has been nice enough to let me buy a camera that can take some wonderful photos, and today I had the rare chance to sit in the back of the helicopter and take pictures of Operation Soccer Chopper’s latest drop.

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Today’s drop was fantastic! Thanks to the balls that were sent from Helen in NY and Coach Robert from Purdue University Women’s Soccer we were able to put some HUGE smiles on the faces of many, many kids today. The temperature today hovered near the mid 90s and we knew that we would find a whole bunch of kids playing in the wadi. As we flew over the kids playing in the water, we too wanted to jump in and play as well.

Our first encounter was with a small group of boys playing in the water. As usual, the moment we came into view, it seemed that the boys knew what was about to happen. As soon as the ball was released from the helicopter, the boys were jumping at the chance to catch that one ball. What a sight it was! We moved over to another group of kids playing in the water not too far from the first group of boys and they too were tackling each other trying to get to the ball. From up in the air, I could clearly see the smiles and excitement that filled their faces. You all have made some kids very, very happy today!

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We continued to fly around the countryside looking for places to drop the balls. We dropped a ball to a group of kids working in the fields. I’m sure they didn’t mind the short break we created when we hovered overhead to drop a ball. I imagine that its just about time to start to harvest some of the grain that appears to be growing in this part of the country. There were lots of people working in the fields and I hope our distraction didn’t cause too much of a disruption in their daily activities. In fact, I hope that our distraction was a welcomed one.

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As we continued on circling in the same area, it seemed that we started to attract a little more attention from what looked to be a nearby school. I’m guessing it’s a school because kids started pouring out of the building as if they were practicing their weekly fire drill. I knew it wasn’t so, since there’s no fire department in town and the buildings are made of mud! Once the kids started to run out into the field there were more than I could count. Kids were everywhere. They all were waving for us to drop more balls. We were happy to oblige. This was our last stop so all the balls were dropped here.

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Kids were running everywhere trying to get their hands on a ball. How I wished that I could just hand a ball out to every kid I see, but in reality one ball should certainly work for a small group of kids wanting to play soccer or volleyball. After all, you need more than one person to play those sports anyway right?

You all have done a wonderful thing. Making someone happy is a great gift and together we’ve accomplished that. A very small and gracious act resulted in an indescribable situation of happiness and joy. I hope that the description of the kids’ smiling faces and the excitement that they feel are enough for even you to feel so many thousands of miles away.

Thank you all for letting me be a part of this!

Princeton

A Turning Point

11 May 2007

A day or two ago, one of my fellow pilots came up to me and told me “We were flying back to base this afternoon and noticed that all the kids we flew over were waving to us!”

I am sure a look of disbelief fell upon my face. Could this be true? Are the days of throwing rocks at passing helicopters numbered? I know that the rocks can’t possibly reach us, but just the thought that the kids around here have now resorted to waving at us in hopes of a few falling soccer balls started to make me feel…well, GOOD! There have only been a handful of soccer drops and it appears that word has spread like a firestorm!

Today, I decided to set myself up for a test. I had planned to take another flight today and I had a small batch of balls that had just come in. I talked to my crew and decided that we were going to try and drop balls in an area on the opposite side of the province that we’re in. I figured that there would be a very small chance that word had gotten to that area that soccer balls were falling from American helicopters. I didn’t know what to expect when we took off. I only knew that we were headed to a “new” place to drop balls. The only thing I knew for sure is that there were going to be some happy kids.

My flight was another test flight to conduct some engine checks on the helicopter. Some maintenance had been done on it and I needed to check it out to make sure that it was safe for our pilots to fly. My checks took just shy of an hour and when we were done, all our attention was focused on the drop. We flew around for only a few minutes when we came upon a small group of kids playing and swimming in the wadi. They seemed so happy; jumping and splashing in the water. I thought about the fun days of going to the beach in Hawaii when I was a little kid. I was sure that a few falling soccer balls would be a perfect addition to an afternoon of swimming in the wadi.

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I flew over the kids to make sure everything was ok. We spotted an area near a grassy clearing for us to hover over so we wouldn’t be blowing dirt and rocks at the kids. I maneuvered the helicopter close enough for them to see the ball. As soon as the kids saw my crew chief hold the ball out of the window, they started running. I mean, THEY STARTED RUNNING! The water had no hold on the kids as if the wadi had gone dry. Kids were running toward us as fast as they could. To my surprise, kids started to emerge in the opposite direction as well. I guess in military terms, we were being flanked! I immediately told my door gunner to hold a ball up on his side of the helicopter. Now, we had kids approaching us from both sides. It was simply amazing! I didn’t want too many kids to be so close under us so after dropping a few balls, I moved over to another grassy clearing that had fewer kids. My attempt to move was in vain. There were more kids coming. This time, the kids were pouring out of a large building that looked like a school. They were all running toward us waving their arms. We were still a good distance away from the building but that didn’t stop them. Kids were running from everywhere. It appeared that we had once again stirred up the hornet’s nest. Fortunately, we had a pretty large bag of balls to drop to the kids below. The bad news is that we ran out of balls. I again started to say to myself that we’re going to need more balls.

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It’s apparent that indeed the word of soccer balls falling from American helicopters is spreading to others and spreading fast. My evidence comes from what my fellow pilot said about the kids waving instead of throwing rocks and today’s display of excitement over our latest delivery of soccer balls.  

My crew’s response to today’s delivery was indescribable. I frequently fly with different crews from my unit. So far, every drop has been with a different pilot, crew chief and door gunner. Everyone’s reaction carries the same degree of happiness and joy that comes from giving. I hope I’m able to express the gratitude from my crew and the kids on the ground. This has turned into such a wonderful experience far beyond what I pictured in my mind. Thanks to all of you who went through so much trouble to send these gifts out, we are all able to see the faces of these kids light up with joy when the ball starts to drop.

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I think we’ve come to a small but significant turning point in this operation. I believe that now, not just the kids, but the adults too are aware of our program and I think it’s for the good of everyone involved. Thank you all for helping us be a part of this awesome experience.

Princeton

Dropping the Ball

9 May 2007

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Hello OSC fans! Today turned out to be a wonderful day for flying and an even better day for dropping soccer balls! It was a busy day yesterday at work. When I got back into my office in the evening I found that there was a package waiting for me. It was a box full of balls and some candy. I also had a ticket from the Post Office saying that I had to sign for another box. The office to sign for my package was closed until the next morning so I waited until the next day to pick it up. The next morning, I was pleasantly surprised to find another box full of balls. The timing worked out great because I was going to be flying later that day and I would be paired up with another crew and their helicopter, so I hoped to get some good photos. I gave the other crew the balls and we set out to fly our mission.

 

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Our ball drop wouldn’t take place until sometime after lunch since our mission was going to take up the bulk of the morning. After we had spent a few hours picking up and dropping off passengers, we finally had time for another soccer drop. On this trip we had a few volleyballs and soccer balls mixed together. We flew our two helicopters to an area that we knew was away from the built up areas of the larger city. The lead helicopter spotted a group of kids playing near the wadi and began their approach. As they maneuvered closer to the kids, the crew chief held out the ball and got ready to drop.

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The word of the ball drops must be making its way around the area because even with the rotor downwash they were producing, the kids still waved and called out for the crew to drop the ball. One by one the balls were dropped to the kids jumping and waving below. It was a joy to see this entire event unfold before us. Kids were running left and right trying to anticipate where the next ball was going to fall. What a wonderful sight to see so many kids enjoying the fallen balls. It didn’t matter if it was a volleyball or a soccer ball.

 

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I think the impact of the gifts you all are sending will have a long term positive influence on the attitudes and perceptions that the local Afghan population has on the United States. You are all doing such a wonderful job at being so generous and caring for those you don’t know. One of the greatest life lessons my father taught me was that “There’s always room”. When I was a little boy, before seat belt laws were enforced, my dad would pack an entire youth basketball team into our tiny station wagon. If there was one more person that needed a ride my dad would tell him to get in the car. “There’s always room” he’d say. We would all pile into that small car and make our way to the basketball game. My dad’s lesson was one of charity and generosity. How lucky are the kids of this area to look up and see all of these wonderful volleyballs and soccer balls falling from the sky? Your charity and generosity have truly blessed the people of this land so very far away.

 

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It is wonderful to see the life lesson my dad taught to me is also being practiced by so many others out there. Thank you for the smiles on the faces of these children. How I wish you could all be here to see the excitement in the faces of these young ones firsthand. Thank you everyone! I’m looking forward to the packages that are being sent. I can’t wait until the next Operation Soccer Chopper drop!

 

Princeton

A fine way to celebrate Cinco de Mayo; with another successful drop. My day today began at the break of dawn. My mission was to transport passengers to another base and have them there 8:00 am. Its an hour trip so we had to leave at 7:00 am. To get our briefings, paperwork and equipment ready, we arrive two hours before takeoff to prep our gear. An early morning makes for a very long day and our day didn’t end until some 12 hours later. Sometime during the mission I realized I had time to land back at our base and get the soccer from Penny and a few more balls from the Graham family. We used two helicopters for our mission today so I had the bright idea to send the balls with the other aircraft and take photos from mine. Since I was going to be actually flying, I gave the camera to my door gunner to take the pictures. However, as soon as I gave him the camera, the darn battery went dead. I couldn’t believe it, I have the best opportunity to take some really good pictures and my battery is bone dry. Luckily, I had a back up plan. I had another camera from one of the other pilots with me. We used that camera to take the pictures that you see. The back up camera isn’t as fast as the one I have so some of the pictures didn’t come out as well as I hoped. The good news is that I did get some decent shots and you can clearly see the crew members in the other helicopter getting ready to throw the balls down to the kids.

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There was a great deal of excitement with the kids below. In this particular area there’s a section against some small foothills that we use for a firing range to test fire our machine guns. As we shoot, the bullet casings fall from the helicopter to the ground. We call the bullet casings “brass” because, well, they’re made of brass. When the brass falls, all the kids from the neighboring village come running to collect it. The kids then take the brass and turn it in for money. Rumor has it that they can fetch up to $7.00 a pound for the brass that they collect. Around here, that’s a lot of money. Imagine their surprise that after we were done shooting and they were busily collecting up the brass, we started to drop soccer balls! I truly think that some of the kids didn’t know what to do…pick up brass? Run after soccer balls? It was a mad frenzy (in a good way).

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We are all blessed. The kids with the balls are blessed. You are blessed for sending them. I’m very blessed to be a part of this and to see it first hand. We are all blessed as Americans to be able to afford such simple luxuries as a soccer ball. I get upset if my steak isn’t cooked right at a restaurant and the folks around here are happy to get a small bag of Doritos when they come in to our clinic on the base. I’m so very blessed to see the smiles and excited faces of the kids that go running after the balls that all of YOU sent. Thank you so very much. Your generosity has made a huge impact on others that you don’t even know. The children who end up with these balls won’t ever know you, they’ll never see a picture of who you are, they can’t even thank you, but I will. I will thank you for making the effort to get these wonderful gifts and sending it thousands of miles across the world to share your good fortune with those you don’t know. There’s a lesson in here somewhere isn’t it? Can you see it? I can.

Thank you everyone. In the most sincere way I know to say it….THANK YOU!

Princeton

About the Operation

2 May 2007

Operation Soccer Chopper is an unofficial goodwill campaign towards the kids of Afghanistan. Donated soccer and volleyballs are tossed out of US Army helicopters during their regular missions around the country to children the crews see playing in the area.

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The response to OSC has been overwhelming, and to give us a place to share photos and first hand accounts of the missions, we have created this blog. Thanks for wanting to be a part of this!!