Happy Birthday to Me!

3 October 2007

Hi OSC fans, it’s Nicole this time sharing with you an email that Princeton sent to me this morning. It’s my birthday and he gave me the best gift ever. I’ll let him tell it:

***Earlier today I was walking to my “office” when I noticed that there were a few kids hanging around the hospital. I talked to this one medic guy named George who I’ve seen before but not really met. I think he’s from a different country because he never wears a uniform and he’s always dressed in khakis. He has a European accent and a huge beard. I talked to him about giving away soccer balls and he invited me to go with him next time he goes out. I accepted his offer and told him where to find me when he goes out again. We’ll see how that works out. I showed him how many soccer balls I had to give away and he asked me for one to give to a little boy he knew. I gave him one. I then walked to the hospital and asked how many kids were there. They said four. Two little boys were standing outside. The two boys already saw me open the ISU container when I gave George a soccer ball. When I looked at them they knew that I was going to give them a soccer ball. They started talking to me in Pashto and I knew what they were saying to me. I opened the ISU and dumped the balls on the ground. I told them that they could have one ball each. You can see the smile on their faces. They were so happy. The little boy couldn’t figure out which ball he wanted. He kept picking up one, dropping it then picking another. He was overwhelmed. Even though they couldn’t understand me, I told them anyway…

“Today is my wife’s birthday. I didn’t give her a gift, but today I’m giving you a gift as if I’m giving it to her. Today her birthday present is a soccer ball to each of you”.

After that I went back to the hospital to give the other two kids a soccer ball as well. They were very happy to get them. I’m so glad I have these soccer balls to give them. Thank you for helping me get them over here. I was right when I said that I didn’t have to drop them from a helicopter to make kids happy, just getting these kids a soccer ball makes them plenty happy enough.***

Seeing his smiling face is all the birthday present I could ever ask for. Thank you so much to all of you who have helped with this project. Without your generosity in sending soccer balls, none of this could happen.

Chaos in my Wake

30 August 2007

Hello OSC fans!

The activity for Operation Soccer Chopper lately has had its ups and downs. Thanks to Jon Gold for writing a great story in the L.A. Daily News last Sunday. The story brought attention to our project and has allowed many others to participate and donate soccer balls to our cause. Thank you Jon! In addition to his article, there were a few other agencies that ran the story and thanks to them we’re able to make it possible for even more people to contribute to the Operation.

An interesting thing happened the same day that the story was printed. As the story was showing up in the L.A. Daily news, another news story was released on some other media outlets. In this story there were some local people from the area who were upset because of a certain soccer ball that was dropped from my helicopter. The soccer ball in question had flags printed on it from countries that participated in the World Cup. One of the countries was Saudi Arabia. On the Saudi Arabia flag there is an inscription from the Koran, written in Arabic. A few of the people here in the local area were upset that a ball was dropped in the dirt from my helicopter because the writing in Arabic was from the Koran. I didn’t realize what effect dropping that ball would have nor had I imagined the commotion that resulted from one single soccer ball. So far I’ve heard reports that there were riots and demonstrations in town because of that one single soccer ball.

I will admit that I had no idea of what the Saudi flag looked like before this. I will also admit that there are very few flags that I would be able to pick out from all of the countries that participated in the World Cup. I do not read Arabic, I can’t speak it. I barely know where it is on the map. When I got the ball in the mail my first thought was that it would be a neat gift to some kid who likes soccer enough to know what countries participated in the World Cup. Apparently, I was wrong. I’ve offered to trade the ball for a different one. I have lots of other kinds…red, green, blue, even pink. So far, I’ve gotten no takers.

For right now, the operation is on temporary hold. I hope to start dropping balls again soon though. Today as my crew and I were making our way across the countryside, kids on the left and right were waving at us in hopes of us dropping a few soccer balls. There were times when we flew over kids that were playing in the wadi or working in the fields that would stop what they’re doing and watch us fly pass. They anxiously wait and see if we’ll turn around and drop some soccer balls, but for now we will have to disappoint them. I can almost feel the tension build up in their gut as they turn toward us and get ready to run in hopes of snatching up one of those soccer balls that you sent and I hate to let them down. There are times when we run out of balls to drop and while we make our way back to base that the kids we fly pass on the way back wave and scream at us to drop more.

I believe that Operation Soccer Chopper is doing a good thing. I believe that the reason it is doing so well is because of people like all of you. When you take the time and effort to get the soccer balls to us way over here, you give my crew and me the wonderful opportunity to see the joy and excitement of the kids who end up with those soccer balls. I’m so very proud of all of you and proud to be a part of this project. It is because of your generosity that so many children are able to receive those gifts that you send.

My dad taught me as I was growing up that generosity should play a paramount role in the way you live your life. Being thankful is being aware of what is going on around you in a positive aspect. I’m thankful for all of you and the work you go through to make this project work. If it weren’t for you, those kids would still be throwing rocks instead of waving at us when we fly pass.

Thank you so very much.

Greetings Fans!

 

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.

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

 

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.

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

 

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!

 

Princeton

As the Ball Bounces.

26 June 2007

Hello Everyone!

I had a wonderful time at home with my family. My trip back to Afghanistan was a long one. It took a few days but I managed to make it back here in one piece. When I got back, I was pleasantly surprised to see my desk covered with boxes from everyone who sent soccer balls while I was gone. One of the first things I was told when I got back was “You got a lot of packages”.  Indeed I did.

I spent the next few days enlisting help unpacking the balls and inflating them. It’s a very good thing that we have an air compressor otherwise filling all those balls by a hand pump would take a lot longer than I’d like it to.  One of the really neat things about this program is that everyone wants to get involved. I find that I have to carefully plan when to inflate the soccer balls because when its time, everyone wants to help with the balls and no one wants to do any work! Its amazing how everyone wants to be involved. I think we’re doing a good thing and everyone wants to help. I can see that there are more people that benefit from this operation than just the kids.

After the balls were inflated, I began to realize that I had no room in my small office space to keep these balls. I had to find somewhere else to store them. Luckily, there was an empty storage container outside that the balls would fit nicely in. Although the container is pretty big, I have a funny feeling that its not going to big enough. Do you agree?

 

 

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

After a few days of getting re-adjusted to the local time again, my first mission since I came back was to take some folks to a base not too far away. We were to drop them off at a remote location and return in a few hours to pick them up. We were a flight of two Blackhawks so each helicopter had soccer balls to drop. We planned to drop the balls after our mission was complete. Since we had nothing to do for the few hours we were waiting to pick up our passengers, we decided to give some of the soccer balls a test drive. After all, we don’t want to be dropping balls that haven’t been tested, right?

 

 

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

The soccer ball testing was a success. We decided that they were all worthy to be dropped to the kids. With that in mind we finished our mission and anxiously made our way back toward our home base while we scouted the area for kids. We made our way along a dried up wadi and found a small village where the kids were working in the fields. The bad news was that the weather was deteriorating so the drop would have to be shortened. The area we found seemed nice and sunny but the base was only 10 miles away and the winds were picking up as a thunderstorm started to move closer. I knew that if we stayed too long dropping soccer balls that we would get caught in the middle of some very bad weather. We managed to drop a few balls and be on our way. We circled around to join our sister ship when a little boy caught our eye. Standing at about four feet tall he was out working in the fields. His shirt and pants were dark but the muddy field that he was working in had made tell-tale signs all over it that he spent more time working than he did playing. Immediately, the entire crew knew that we had to make one last drop to this little fellow. Our crew chief picked out a nice blue and white soccer ball to throw down to him. Sometimes, when we drop a ball to larger groups, it’s always the bigger, faster kids that seem to get them. Some of the younger kids don’t seem to have much of a chance to grab a ball although every once in a while they do. Today, one of the younger ones was going to get a ball. We saw that he was all alone working in the field. I maneuvered the helicopter around, slowed down just a little and we dropped the ball for him to have. He ran as fast as his little bare feet could go leaving a cloud of dust behind him as he raced for the ball. He scooped it up instantly and cradled it in his arms as if his life depended on it. He gave us a giant wave as if we were all speaking the same language and we were. I guess in any language a Thank you is a Thank you.

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

Do you see it? He’s saying it to you now…THANK YOU.

We’re back!

21 June 2007

Greetings OSC fans! Thanks for your patience during the last few weeks when Princeton was home on leave. That time flew by far too quickly though, and now he’s back in Afghanistan and ready to get going with Operation Soccer Chopper again.

One of the guys in his unit said that when they’ve been flying the past few weeks, they’ve seen several kids who’ve waved and made ball-kicking motions, so the word is definitely getting out. They don’t even know Princeton was on R&R and there are dozens of kids who are glad he’s back!

The mail kept coming while he was gone, and he returned to a big pile of boxes in his office:
Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

Remember that the balls in those boxes are mostly deflated, so there are a LOT of balls in that pile! The first thing that has to be done is to inflate all of them. The whole unit is getting a lot of satisfaction out of OSC so there is never a shortage of volunteers to help with that.
Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

It will be a few days before we have any more “action” shots of actual drops, but until then, here’s one “kid” who’s having fun with one of the donated soccer balls!

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

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!
Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

What kid wouldn’t love to have a hundred soccer balls?? Even a big kid – who knows they aren’t his to keep?

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

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

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

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!

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

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!
Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

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!)

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.

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

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!

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

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.

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

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.

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

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