Soccer equipment shipped to Iraqi kids | VailDaily.com
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Soccer equipment shipped to Iraqi kids

Melanie Wong
Vail CO, Colorado
Special to the DailyRepublican Women are asking for balls, pumps and shoes for U.S. troops to give to Iraqi kids.
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EAGLE COUNTY ” When an U.S. Army officer from New Mexico wrote home asking for soccer balls so troops could play with Iraqi children, he did not think it would turn into a nationwide operation to send more than 10,000 balls and other equipment.

Now Eagle County is joining the effort, asking for donations through the county’s Republican Women. Through army chaplain and Capt. Kevin Wainright, the troops of the 3rd Battalion, 8th Cavalry Regiment distribute balls, pumps and soccer shoes to children they meet and organize kids soccer leagues.

“The soldiers know that these kids are like the kids back in the U.S. They need a positive outlet, and the game of soccer has a deep history in Iraq. The kids know the game but don’t always have coaches or equipment to play with,” said Leah Hall, vice-president of the Eagle County Republican Women.

The program is part of “Operation We Care,” which also sends toys and backpacks to Iraqi children. Troops have not only started the soccer leagues, but also hold youth soccer days with Iraqi law enforcement and local children, and in some areas Marines have started programs similar to Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts, Hall said.

The soccer program is very important in building relationships between the soldiers and Iraqis, said program director Linda Sanchez, national chair to the Armed Services for the National Federation of Republican Women.

“The response has been totally positive,” Sanchez said. “The soldiers love to be involved, and the children have positive thoughts about the American soldiers.”

She said one soldier told her that some of the children the soldiers coached have warned them about insurgents, snipers and hidden bombs. In one instance, a young Iraqi girl blocked a convoy of 100 soldiers and would not move from the middle of the road, Sanchez said. The girl finally told the officers that some men who were not from their village had come through the previous night. The soldiers inspected the road and found a number of explosives, she said.

Wainwright said participating in the program helps the soldiers to see the Iraqis as individuals.

“Passing out soccer balls, clothes, backpacks, toys, etc. may not seem like a big thing, but I think that it is an important first step towards humanizing the Iraqi people as well as making our soldiers appear more human in their eyes,” Wainwright wrote via e-mail.

Collection will continue through Dec. 1 when the equipment will be shipped, Sanchez said.

Various community organizations and individuals have already made donations. Caitlin O’Donnell of Vail Valley Soccer said the league donated balls and equipment that were left behind over the season.

“We get a lot of support from our community,” she said. “So it’s important to help others that need help, too. If we aren’t using this equipment it’s important to get it to somebody who can put it to use.”

Staff Writer Melanie Wong can be reached at 748-2928 or mwong@vaildaily.com.


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