Fruits of Your Labor

20 October 2007

Yesterday I decided to go for a late afternoon run around the base. My route goes for about five to six miles. My run takes me around the runway on the far western part of the base and then parallel to the runway and makes a turn around the eastern end. When I started to make my turn around the eastern end of the runway I looked across the dusty field just beyond the perimeter fence and noticed a small group of kids running around. However, the thing that caught my eye was a bright orange soccer ball being kicked around by those young boys. The evening was getting close and I didn’t have time to run back to my room to get my camera but I made a mental note of what time it was and decided to come back again today to get some pictures.   Early this evening I made my way up to the nearest guard tower where I could best position myself get some photos. I was grinning from ear to ear! All I could think of was “Look what all of you have done!” What an amazing sight. Right in front of my eyes were the fruits of your labor! Can you believe it? All I could do was smile.  


You can see part of the runway in the background. The boys are playing just outside of the fence and having a great time!  



I thought back on the past few weeks and tried to remember who I’d given an orange soccer ball to. I remember getting the bright orange soccer balls in the mail but I couldn’t remember giving one out. I asked the other Maintenance Test Pilot (Bob) if he’d given one out and he said he did. There was a bunch of kids who had come to the hospital and one of the medics I told about the soccer balls came over to my office and asked Bob if he could have a few soccer balls for the kids that were there. I’m so glad that he did. What a wonderful blessing it is to see these kids playing in the field and having a good time.

There hasn’t been much soccer playing outside the fence for the past few weeks because of Ramadan, but now that it’s over the kids are playing outside just about every evening.   Thank you everyone!   However, please remember that I’m ending OSC at the end of this month. This means that I’ve stopped asking for additional soccer balls to be sent to me. Please contact me if you have a special request and I’ll try to see if we can work something out. As of now, I estimate that I have about 500 soccer balls to give out. I have made arrangements to ensure that the soccer balls will be distributed. So please don’t think that they’ll end up in the garbage or anything like that.   There has been so much support in this project. Thank you everyone for your time and energy in making this so much fun for us! The money you’ve raised to send the soccer balls, the time you take to mail them and the letters and cards you write are a wonderful treat to all of us.

In the most sincerest way to say it…Thank You!  



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.

A Brief Update

25 September 2007

Hello OSC Fans,

 In the past few weeks OSC has been on hold. The incident with one particular soccer ball has turned into an International Incident and the future of OSC looks bleak. Right now, I am getting little support from higher up so this will lead me to end Operation Soccer Chopper at the end of October. I will still accept donations throughout that same month though. Since OSC had been put on hold from late August I’ve received soccer balls in the mail from a lot of people. I still have those balls and they will be distributed to the local kids. However, they will not be dropped by helicopter. Instead, arrangements will be made to deliver the balls by ground vehicles. I’ve been invited to join those ground vehicles and I plan to do so when the time comes. It will give me a chance to interact with some of the kids who will be getting the balls and get some close up pictures of the event.

 Please keep in mind that the whole purpose of OSC is to give the kids a ball to play with. Whether it’s dropped by helicopter or given to them in person, all that matters is that kids get some soccer balls. Please continue to send your soccer balls in because I will still try to get them out to every kid that wants one.

 Additionally, we are in the middle of the observance of Ramadan, the holy month of the Muslim faith. Even if OSC wasn’t on hold, I would’ve put a hold on dropping soccer balls at least until October 13th which is the end of Ramadan.

 Please keep your donations coming in until the end of October. That is when OSC will stop. I will discourage the incoming unit from starting any similar programs such as this because it appears that there is little support for this type of activity.

Thank you to everyone who’s contributed and made the few kids we were able to get soccer balls to very happy.


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.

Thanks to all of you who found our blog via Jon Gold’s article in Sunday’s L.A. Daily News. Thanks especially to Jon and the editorial staff at the paper for letting us share our mission with so many people.

If you haven’t read the story yet you can find it here:

What’s it Worth?

18 August 2007

Everything has its price. For some things the price is in monetary terms. For others, it could be an investment in time. The price all of you pay to send soccer balls to us here in this foreign land is so wonderful that all I can ever do to repay you is to keep writing and telling more stories of the happenings of Operation Soccer Chopper.  

Allow me to indulge…  

There is a cost for dropping soccer balls to the kids of Afghanistan. So far the cost has been minimal and with no danger to the kids below. However, just to keep the record straight I would like to post the following tally on the things that have been hit with a falling soccer ball.  

3 Cows

4 Chickens

1 Donkey

1 Toyota Corolla  

Please don’t be alarmed. The Toyota is doing fine and you can hardly notice the ball print on the hood where the ball bounced off of it and landed in an open field. All of the mentioned animals were not hurt but the soccer ball did chase them away and the kids were still able to retrieve the ball. Also, please remember that the list above is a total tally after dropping nearly 1000 soccer balls and volleyballs.  It is simply amazing at how many kids are already aware of the soccer drops. In most cases, we pick an area that we want to concentrate on and stay within that small area dropping soccer balls until we run out. Typically, we usually find an open field or we position ourselves along a small section of a wadi where a few kids are playing. In a matter of minutes the area where we start dropping becomes flooded with kids running back and forth trying to catch some of these elusive falling soccer balls. It is a truly wonderful sight to see.

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In our latest drop we found a nice large field where there were a handful of kids playing. The kids already knew what we were up to when we flew across the field and immediately started waving their arms at our helicopter. Some were waving, others were kicking their feet up in the air and others were tossing their hats up in the air to get our attention. We made our first pass across the field to assess the situation and decided that we were going to stay here to drop the soccer balls we brought with us. We started our drop and could see that kids were running to the field from every direction. Eventually, there were so many kids running around that we started to spread our coverage of the drop so that more kids get a chance to catch a soccer ball.  After we made a few passes across the field we spotted a small group of girls dressed in pretty bright colors. Yellow, orange, pink and green…their dresses were so colorful and stood out so well that we just had to make a drop to them. We passed over them and dropped two soccer balls for them to have. Luckily, there was no one else nearby and the soccer balls landed just a few feet from them. 

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There were just a few soccer balls left. We circled around to drop the last few in the large open field when we noticed that there were some boys that ran out of a school building waving at us overhead. It appeared that once again we emptied another school with all the commotion we stirred up. Certainly, these boys could use a soccer ball to kick around after studying all day long right? Little did we realize how competitive these boys were; we set the first ball to drop. Their arms were raised up in hopes of catching it and the ball nearly floated down towards them. The ball landed near a small mound of dirt, bounced over and came to rest next to another mound of dirt. There were two boys chasing after it, running so fast that their shoes fell off their feet. The first boy jumped on the ball and wrapped his body around it to protect it from the others that were close by. There must’ve been ten boys chasing after that one ball. Without hesitation, the other boys all jumped on the first one and immediately started to wrestle for the one soccer ball. Although it seemed like they were in the midst of a huge struggle, we could tell from their faces that it was all in fun. Boys will be boys.

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Another successful chapter of Operation Soccer Chopper is complete. The waving arms, the bare feet running across the rocky fields, and the ever present smiling faces are a testament that the cost of time, money, and effort each one of you invests into getting those soccer balls here for us to distribute are well worth it.  

So YOU answer the question… Is it worth it? 


The Drop Continues!

2 August 2007

In my attempt to keep up with what’s going on at work and keeping the updates going, I find that I’ve fallen behind in posting what’s going on with OSC.   

My schedule has been changing from being on the day shift to working nights. On the days that I have the night shift, it’s too late in the evening to drop soccer balls. However, there are some days that we can get off the ground before the sun sets to make a drop now and again. On this particular day we managed to take off just before dinner and do a few checks on the aircraft. My crew was excited because since we’ve been on the night shift and weren’t able to make any drops for a while, the storage container of soccer balls was getting full. We grabbed a few giant bags of soccer balls and set them in the helicopter for our trip.   

In the late afternoon light, we flew across the wadi that stretches over the valley. We knew that the warm summer temperatures would surely draw the kids to play in what little water there still was left. There’s an interesting phenomenon that happens when we start to fly over the wadi. Everyone waves at us! Kids, grownups, people working in the fields…everyone! I remember when we first got in this country the people would just look up and watch us fly by. Now, things seem a bit more inviting. I haven’t seen a kid throwing rocks at us here since we’ve started dropping soccer balls and everyone waves instead. Could it possibly be that the attitude of our presence here has changed that much?   We started dropping soccer balls and kids started running. Another interesting thing we’ve been noticing is that the girls are now getting more involved with catching the soccer balls too. They don’t chase after the helicopter like the boys do, I guess it must be a cultural thing, but the girls will just stand in one place while the boys dart to and fro trying to catch a falling soccer ball. Well, we know that the girls should have just as much of a right to get a soccer ball so we came up with a plan. When we’re flying around and we see a small group of girls standing in the open, we decide if the boys are too close to them. Knowing that the girls won’t move and will just stand there, we move the helicopter away from the girls and make the boys follow us a good distance away from them. We drop a ball or two so that the boys stay in that one general area. Meanwhile, we keep our eyes on the small group of girls standing all by themselves. Once the majority of the boys have shifted away from the girls, we quickly move the helicopter over to where the girls are and drop a ball. The boys never knew what happened. The next thing you know, the girls have a ball in their hands just like we wanted them to.

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 It’s difficult to understand different cultures sometimes. We get set in our own ways and can only picture life the way we live it. How do we open ourselves up to understand that there are more people in this world who do things differently? What makes one culture more right than another? I ask myself questions like these and realize that when the soccer balls are dropping, kids playing and having fun is a good thing no matter what cultural or religious beliefs you may have. Before our flight was over, we scoured the countryside to deposit the last of the few remaining balls we had left. Thanks to my wonderful friend Erica H from Texas, we had the last of her donated soccer balls to give away. We combed the wadi looking for someone who could really use a soccer ball. We were all quiet as we made our way down one of the tributaries to the larger wadi. Suddenly, my crew chief broke the silence with “I got one!” On the right side of the helicopter he saw a small family walking across a small stream of water. We knew it was a perfect place to drop a ball. There was a father, mother and four kids. It looks like they were making their way home from the market. This amazed me because the town center is nearly three miles from where we were. We guessed that this family didn’t have much to their name since they were walking and everything they seemed to have bought at the market was being carried. We circled the helicopter around and just as the family looked up to see what we wanted from them, we dropped the last stars and stripes soccer ball to them. It was a perfect drop. The ball bounced just once and landed with a neat little splash right in front of the dad. He set the heavy bag he had slung over his shoulder and walked the few steps he needed to retrieve the ball. His little kids seemed a bit more surprised than excited and didn’t react much. The mom just stood there under her burqa holding on to their littlest one. The dad then bent down, gave the ball to his little boy, threw his heavy sack over his shoulder and continued to lead his family home. He gave a few glances over to us but no wave or any gestures to say thanks. I guessed that after having a long walk to the market, probably spending more money than he needed to buy the necessities for his family, and having to heave that sack some three or four miles back home, it would take more than a soccer ball to get him excited.     

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I’m sure in time, his kids will have lots of fun with that soccer ball. I’m sure in time the dad will get to smile when he sees his children playing with that same ball. For now, he needed to take his family home. I’m sure he has lots of other things to worry about. At least for right now.