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

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