Love of soccer connects US, Iraqi children
December 10, 2009
FORWARD OPERATING BASE WARRIOR, KIRKUK, Iraq- Soccer is one of the most enduring and popular sports in Iraq. Iraqi children can be seen kicking the ball around at any given time of day on fields usually made of dirt.
In support of this national past time, Soldiers from a Military Transition Team in Kirkuk province began a soccer-ball drive in mid-November.
Major Tim Rustad, a Mankato, Minn., native and in charge of the 49th Iraqi Army Brigade MiTT, along with his Soldiers began the event to give something back to the community they drove through so often.
"We wanted to have an event where we could give back to the kids in the local area," Maj. Rustad said. "We always gave them candy when we passed by, but they would always hold their hands in the air."
According to Maj. Rustad, the Iraqi soldiers informed them the reason the children would hold their hands up was because they wanted soccer balls. Using this information, the MiTT began informing friends and family back home of their need for soccer balls, which eventually led to Maj. Rustad establishing a Facebook page for the drive.
"Our goal is basically to have people from the U.S. get involved," he said. "I started telling them to send soccer balls to give to the children in the local area, and November 10, we started the drive to get the balls."
Major Rustad said there have been more than 100 soccer balls sent with 200 additional ones on the way.
By reaching out on the internet, the MITT team has reached a wider audience and even U.S. schoolchildren have begun sending soccer balls. According to Maj. Rustad, an all-girls soccer team from his hometown sent 38 soccer balls.
Each soccer ball has the message "From American kids to Iraqi kids" written in Arabic.
"The balls come from Family, friends and people the MiTT doesn't even know," Maj. Rustad said. "It's been pretty cool. We have been able to get a lot of support from back home."
The Iraqi children receiving the soccer balls were more than happy to receive them.
"We have a soccer field made of dirt but, with new soccer balls it doesn't matter," said one Iraqi child. "Thank you to the American children."
The soccer ball delivery is done in conjunction with IA Soldiers of the 49th IA Bde., which allows them an opportunity to be seen in the communities they protect.
"Passing out the balls gives the 49th an opportunity to get out into the community and meet the people," Maj. Rustad said.
Although Maj. Rustad and his team are planning on moving to a different Iraqi province in the coming weeks, he said they plan to continue the program, and in the future, they will deliver them to children at the schools.