KHOWST PROVINCE, Afghanistan - Wars throughout history have often been settled by bullets and artillery shells, with sheer firepower usually making the difference between battlefield victory and defeat. But today's counter-insurgency fight is different, and mandates a creative balance of both firepower and non-lethal methods to accomplish mission objectives.

U.S. Army Soldiers of the Fort Knox, Ky.-based 3rd Platoon, Company B, 1st Battalion, 26th Infantry Regiment, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division, Task Force Duke, however, are hoping that a volleyball game in Sarobi, Afghanistan, Feb. 21 might go a long way in bringing peace to a country that's known mostly violence and lawlessness over the last 30 years.

The Soldiers had been on a joint patrol with the Afghan National Army near the town of Sarobi, Saberi District, with the intent to distribute several crank-powered radios to the residents that would allow residents to tune into Afghan radio programs, and also to meet with local leaders.

Their plan was abruptly changed about an hour into the patrol when a grenade exploded near them as they were passing through the Kholbesat Bazaar. To their amazement no one was hurt in the blast.

"I can't believe no one was seriously hurt," said 2nd Lt. Noel Jordan, the assistant information operations officer for 1-26 who was also patrolling along with the platoon. "Pfc. Manley, who was at the rear of the patrol, and who we believe was the target, received some minor scratches on his thighs from the blast material," said Jordan.

The locals reported seeing a child jump off the roof after the blast, said Jordan. The patrol immediately cordoned off the market in an attempt to find the child, who they believed threw the grenade, to no avail.
"We could have easily turned back after that attack," said Jordan, "but the platoon leader, drove on and continued the mission of passing out radios and meeting with key area leaders."

Following their key leader meetings the patrol moved on to Sarobi where they spotted a group of young village men playing volleyball. According to Jordan the men challenged the Soldiers of Company B, 1-26 to a friendly contest.

Not wanting to let a good challenge slip by - not to mention a chance to build a rapport with the villagers - 2nd Lt. Jordan Weiss, the platoon leader for 3rd Platoon, and Parkston, S.D. native, agreed to the challenge.

"We're going to play these guys in volleyball," said Weiss enthusiastically, while directing that a security perimeter be set up around the area, with his remaining Soldiers dropping their gear to competitively engage their newfound friendly foes.

Even a few members of the ANA joined the game, siding with the villagers in order to fill out the roster.

Once begun, the game lasted 20 minutes and ended with the locals winning by a close margin. Still, the Soldiers were pleased with the game, even in defeat.

"We had a really good reception with the locals, and they were really excited we were playing volleyball," said Pfc. Nicholas Lumenello, a medic from Ogunquit, Maine.

The Soldiers felt the volleyball game had been a great way to dispel the tension from the day, as well as some of the preconceived notions Afghan citizens frequently have about coalition forces, said Jordan.

By removing their body armor and weapons, and engaging in an athletic competition with the villagers, the platoon was better able to connect to them.

And connecting with the Afghan people is the paramount goal, as even such a distinguished source as U.S. Army Gen. David Petraeus, commander of coalition forces in Afghanistan, who frequently says the battle here involves more factors than simply killing the enemy.

So while an impromptu little volleyball game in wartime Sarobi may not seem like much, to the 1-26 Soldiers used to patrolling in areas that can often turn dangerous, as was the case this day with the grenade attack, it was a most-welcomed change of pace.

"It was great we could switch gears like that," said Pfc. Calder Manley, an infantryman from Gunnersville, Ala., and the Soldier nearest to the grenade blast.

The 1-26 Soldiers, as well as the rest of the Soldiers of TF Duke, will continue to take every opportunity to show the Afghan people the coalition forces are here to help them build a safer, more prosperous country capable of delivering effective and timely services.

And if volleyball can be part of that equation, so much the better.

"It was an excellent chance for us to build rapport with the Afghans," said Weiss, summing up the day's events.