Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Airmen Provide Soccer Balls for Kids in Iraq

Story and Photo by Senior Airman Andria J. Allmond
332nd Air Expeditionary Wing
July 20, 2009

JOINT BASE BALAD — Airmen and Soldiers here recently received donations for Iraqi children who live near this base from a stateside fraternity. The Pennsylvania State University chapter of the social fraternity Phi Kappa Tau supports programs to increase the quality of life for terminally ill children.

Through their program Kicks 4 Kids, along with some inquiring by Capt. Craig Bryan, Expeditionary Aeromedicine Squadron psychologist and PKT alumnus, they were able to collect approximately 300 soccer balls to be distributed to Iraqi children via the support of JBB servicemembers.

"Kicks 4 Kids is an annual soccer tournament hosted by the PSU chapter of the Phi Kappa Tau fraternity," said Bryan, who was president of the University of Evansville chapter, Ind., for two years. "It was designed as a philanthropy event to raise money for an international network of summer camp facilities for terminally ill children...allowing these children the opportunity to participate in typical summer camp activities despite their illnesses."

Months prior to the donations being made, Bryan was having lunch with Capt. Laura Dart, 532nd Expeditionary Security Forces medical officer. She mentioned that Iraqi children were asking the 532nd ESFS for soccer balls while the Airmen were outside the wire on patrol.

"She commented that she wished she had some soccer balls to hand out to the kids, so I told her I'd e-mail some friends back in the States to see if they could send some," said Bryan. "I e-mailed a few of my fraternity brothers and told them the story. I asked if they'd be willing to get some soccer balls for us. One of them wrote back and said 'We're on it...we'll get you some soccer balls.'"

After Bryan contacted them, the PKT brothers hosting the event sent an e-mail to the 200 participating team coaches a month prior to the event. They requested each bring one deflated soccer ball and air pump to the event registration. The request was also posted on the Kicks 4 Kids Web site.

The captain said the boxes started arriving shortly thereafter.

"They just kept coming," he said. "My initial reaction was, 'What am I going to do with all these soccer balls?'"

The captain contacted Kids of Iraq, a nonprofit organization dedicated to improving the lives of Iraqi children by fulfilling their basic needs and providing a brighter future. They accepted the majority of the contributed balls and inflated them.

"We met at Troy's place and there were boxes and boxes of these soccer balls to inflate," said Airman 1st Class Jefferson Aguiar, 727th Expeditionary Air Control Squadron radar maintenance apprentice.

Due to the large amount of donations, Bryan coordinated multiple methods to distribute the soccer balls.

Some were kept in the intensive care ward at the base hospital and given out to pediatric patients, while a number were given to Army Spc. Nazha Lakrik, who is assigned to the 1st Medical Squadron Medical Control Center, he said.

"Certain days of the week, the [local nationals] on base come in for their follow-up appointments," said Lakrik. "I know a lot of them are parents, so I make up goody-bags of items for them to give to their children, like books and school supplies. When I heard that Capt. Bryan had those extra soccer balls, I asked if I could have them to put in my bags."

The remainder was given to the 532nd EFSF Quick Reaction Force for distribution to Iraqi children while on patrol in areas surrounding JBB.

"I think where we're at right now in our operations in Iraq, building strong relationship with the citizens is what's most important," said Bryan. "Combat action will only go so far, especially during a stage that is 100 percent about building lasting, trusting relationships with the people."

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