Having a Ball
(Photo Credit: U.S. Army) VIEW ORIGINAL

FORWARD OPERATING BASE ISKAN, Iraq - Receiving a soccer ball may not seem like a big deal to some, but for the Iraqi children who don't have much in the Hay Mo'Alamen and al-Jursa neighborhoods of Musayyib, the round ball gives them a healthy, happy activity now that summer is here.

The Soldiers, from 3rd Battalion, 7th Infantry Regiment, Multi-National Division - Center, handed out 40 soccer balls to local children during a patrol June 3 as part of a program founded to honor a fallen comrade.

"Kick for Nick," was established in honor of Pfc. Nicholas A. Madaras, who was killed Sept. 3, 2006, due to injuries suffered when an improvised explosive device detonated near his dismounted patrol during combat operations in Baqubah, Iraq.

"A friend of mine from Cartersville, Ga., named Miles Chesney asked me if I would like to be involved in passing out soccer balls to kids," said Staff Sgt. Anthony Walsh, a member of the unit and Trenton, Mich., native. "He knew of several businesses and persons willing to donate money and soccer balls. I thought this would be a great way to interact in a positive way with the children and adults. I just want the children of Iraq to have the same (fun) and opportunities that my children experience every day."

Businesses and individuals from across the U.S. support the "Kick for Nick" foundation. Each soccer ball shipped has Madaras' name written on it and each box of balls includes his biography.

Madaras grew up playing soccer, and played for Wilton High School in Wilton, Conn. He enlisted in the Army after graduating high school, and within months was deployed to Iraq. In that foreign land, the familiar sight of children playing soccer tugged at his heart - but with one difference: the Iraqi children played with bags of rocks instead of balls.

In July 2006, Madaras collected a few soccer balls while home on leave, and asked his father to send them to him after he returned to Iraq. But Madaras never got a chance to distribute the balls; he was killed in action a month before his 20th birthday.

Ken Dartley, a Wilton resident and veteran of the Korean War, heard about Madaras' wish to give soccer balls to the Iraqi children. He contacted the Madaras family and together they founded "Kick for Nick," hoping to collect thousands of balls to distribute as Madaras' legacy.

As Nick's legacy continues, the boxes of soccer balls continue arriving in Iraq.

The al-Jursa neighborhood, where 1st Platoon, Company C, 3-7th Inf. Regt., brought the soccer balls, is one of the poorest neighborhoods in Musayyib. The neighborhood residents were ecstatic to see their children receiving soccer balls, Walsh said. The Soldiers took a few minutes to kick the balls back and forth with the children before continuing on with their mission.

"This was great event for the platoon and for the people of al-Jursa," said Maj. Stephen Capehart, Company C commander.