16 July 2007
What an amazing day! I’ve lived in this country for a few months now and although I don’t get much of a chance to meet with the people that live here, I can certainly say that we have some kind of interaction going on. On today’s drop we were able to make our way to the outer farm areas just outside the city. I can surely say with confidence that in our area, not only is the presence of American forces is seen as a positive thing, but I have proof that in some way, we are gaining favor with the people we were sent here to help.
After take off, we flew over miles of planted crops that looked like they were getting ready to be harvested. Each plot of flooded paddy held a small group of people gathering stalks of grain and setting it down in neat piles. The sun continued to beat down on each one as they steadily worked on harvesting their crops. It appears that the harvest is a family affair for many of the people that live here. As we flew over, I gave each small group of people a friendly wave as we made our way across the landscape. To my surprise, many of them waved back! I couldn’t believe it, I was flabbergasted.
I don’t recall the people on the ground waving back at me before except for the kids that start running after the helicopter wanting a soccer ball. I’m probably letting my imagination get the best of me, but could it possibly be that our mission of “making ‘us’ a little less intimidating and more of a friend” be working? My pride tells me yes, but my skepticism won’t quite believe it.
The neatest thing about Operation Soccer Chopper is when there’s one particular person on the ground that we see from the air who we feel deserves a soccer ball. There was a little boy working in the fields one day that we dropped a soccer ball to. A lot of times it’s always a boy who ends up getting a ball. In the past, we’ve tried to drop a ball near a small group of girls hoping that they will chase after the ball and have one for their own. However, I’m not familiar with all of the local customs or religious beliefs. We decided that the reason the girls don’t go chasing after the soccer balls is probably because they weren’t allowed to play sports. I am ignorant. I don’t know what girls can and can’t do here in this country. However, that doesn’t mean that we won’t try to keep dropping balls when little girls are working along side their parents and siblings working just as hard to harvest the crops. On that note, today would prove to be another “first” for us. We had been dropping balls for just a few minutes when we came upon a flooded muddy field. It looked like a whole family had been working for hours. Everyone was covered in dirt and mud. They looked like they were working so hard and to me, that work had no end in sight. All of them needed a break. We were going to provide a break. Short as it was, they needed a break, compliments of OSC. We saw the flooded muddy field below as we flew over. Mothers, fathers, brothers and sisters were all in the field harvesting and working way too hard. After all, this is summer right? Kids should be playing in the water, splashing, not hunched over pulling crops from the ground. The minute we saw that family, we knew that there was a chance that a little girl would get a ball today. We slowed down and made the approach at the right speed. Our crew chief was Chris, he held the ball up over his machine gun and waited for the right time. “Ball’s away!” he announced as he keyed his intercom. The ball made one giant bounce on a small dirt walkway and promptly plopped into the murky water. After making a small splash it settled right next to a little girl and her sister. All she had to do was pick it up and tuck it under her arm.
What a day! Look at that smile! Incredible.
Thanks to all of you, we’re having such a good time dropping balls to kids that need to be playing just as much as they need to be working. I know that we can’t supply every kid with a soccer ball but wouldn’t it be nice if we could?
I know we have a few folks that have taken that challenge head on. I appreciate your support so much. What a worthwhile project! Thank you all for helping with this. You are wonderful people and we are all very lucky!
10 July 2007
When this project started I had no idea of how many others would be affected by a few soccer balls. I knew the obvious beneficiaries would be the kids who would be catching these donated soccer balls, but what I didn’t expect was the effect it was going to have on others once this thing got off the ground (literally and figuratively). From the moment of the first drop, the feeling of overwhelming joy was felt by not just the kids below the helicopter, but also my crew who were in the helicopter dropping balls. My narrow mind was only focused on short term goals and ideas. I knew that if I took a soccer ball and added a kid who didn’t have one, that would equal one HAPPY kid, right? I thought that I was right but I think I miscalculated. Now, I’m not so sure…allow me to add another variable to this equation.
This is Erica from Texas.
Erica’s mom and dad have already arranged with the people they work with, their family, and their friends to collect two large boxes of soccer balls that were sent to me a few weeks ago. It was an awesome sight. I’ve received boxes and boxes of soccer balls and it is always a wonderful thing to see my desk piled high with those packages.
Somehow, someway, word had gotten back to Erica’s parents that I was in need of more soccer balls. (Which is pretty much always.) So off they went hoping to find a secret treasure trove of soccer balls to send over. They found a store that was selling these soccer balls at a really good price and ended up getting 60 something balls to send over. However, just collecting and loading the soccer balls into the back of the truck wasn’t enough for Erica. This wonderful little girl had emptied her piggy bank and bought 6 soccer balls with her own money! What a wonderful lesson of generosity and selflessness! I’m deeply touched at her act of kindness and would love to give her a great big hug right now. The most amazing part is that Erica will never get to know the kids that will receive the soccer balls she bought. She may never meet them, she can’t even talk to them because she can’t speak Pashtu, but she will offer her hand of friendship and love with this one gesture of donating her own money to buy a few soccer balls to give away.
When Erica’s package of soccer balls get here, this is what will happen.
Literally hundreds of kids will gather around in hopes of catching one of the balls that were sent. The kids will run as fast as they can to get one.
They will stop what they’re doing to chase after a dropped ball and as that one kid tucks that ball under his arm, he’ll look up and wave to us as we hover by. He’ll go home and tell his family what happened. He won’t let go of that ball for days, keeping it safe and close by. He’ll sleep at night with a big smile on his face anxiously waiting for the morning to come so he can call his friends to play with him!
Thanks to Erica and people from all over the world who’ve helped put that smile on that little kid’s face, and the faces of so many others, we all are truly blessed.
3 July 2007
It’s finally July. The heat has been beating down on us for weeks and we all know it’s going to get worse before it gets better. Now and again a thunderstorm passes through and although the rain seems to cool the hot ground, the muggy air then takes over and makes things even worse. Thankfully, the thought of being able to make another drop of soccer balls lifts our spirits. All of a sudden, the heat isn’t so bad after all.
I’m on the night shift for the next few days so this afternoon I met with the other maintenance pilot to coordinate what needed to be finished up. I was glad to know that one of the birds would need a maintenance test flight. I knew that once the checks were complete, we’d have time to drop some balls.
Every time we prepare for one of our drops we can’t help but think of all the excited Afghan kids who will be trading us giant smiles for the soccer balls that fall from above. Today we loaded the aircraft with balls donated by the family of my crew chief Jeremy.
We conducted our test flight along a very long wadi that runs near our base. While our crew concentrated on the maintenance checks, we were also scanning the landscape to see what would be the best place to make the drop once work was over. Once the checks were complete, we all agreed that one particular spot would be the best place. Just to the side of the wadi was a small group of boys. It was obvious that they were working in the fields and could use a short break. We hovered over and dropped the first ball. A race was on to see who would get to the ball first. It was a nice race that ended with the winner scooping up the ball and showing it off to his friends. Just beyond this first group of boys there was another group that was waving to us. We moved the helicopter over and dropped another ball. The helicopter was still moving when the ball started its fall, it took a great bounce and started to roll across a grassy field. Another foot race ensued. This time, the boys seemed a bit more determined to claim a soccer ball and a large group of them went running after it. Just as the lead runner got close enough to bend down and scoop up the ball, a whole mass of other boys fell on the first one and everyone came crashing down on him! What a sight! They were so eager to get a ball that they were tackling each other to get to it! We could see from the look on their faces that they were so happy to get such a great gift from all of you.
The saying goes…it takes more muscles in your face to frown than it does to smile. Every ball you send changes that saying for me to “it only takes one soccer ball to make a lot of kids smile.” I hope it makes you smile too.