For Immediate Release
IRAQ – Tasked with finding and stopping insurgents before the next bomb blast rips further tears in Iraq’s stability, an American soldier patrols Iraq’s dusty streets looking for insurgents. At any given time, on any quiet street, a handful of Iraqi children trail behind Eric, a U.S. Army soldier, calling, “Mista, mista, ball, ball.”
“Most Iraqi kids don’t want something to eat, they want something to play with, namely a ball. Everyday I get requests from children,” said Eric, who began handing out soccer balls sent over by his family and friends. Often the gesture is reciprocated when an Iraqi mother tentatively offers the soldiers a cup of tea, as her small, but meaningful thanks.
“This is how you fight an insurgency,” said Eric. “Give the people something to enjoy, something to relate to you with, something to make them happy and to take away from anything the insurgents and terrorists may have to offer the people. Even if you don’t agree with the war, you can’t disagree that Iraq needs to be given back to the Iraqi people and not foreign insurgents.”
Like most of our troops, Eric is a typical American young man, who played soccer in his youth, and that is the thread of understanding that is bridging the vast cultural gap between Iraqis and Americans and perhaps changing in some small way, Iraqis’ perceptions of Americans.
“Whenever we give a ball away, we always try to spend a few minutes playing around with the Iraqi kids or adults,” said Eric. “Not an easy task when you are wearing 60 pounds of armor, ammunition, and carrying radios and rifles, not to mention you are trying to find and kill insurgents.”
But the Iraqi children’s pleas for balls have surpassed his stateside family and friends abilities to provide them, so they are taking the project public.
Dubbed, “Eric’s Goal,” the extended family began a grass-roots ball drive, collecting new and used balls which are then sent to Iraq. To date, about 685 balls have been shipped to Iraq with the goal of sending thousands more.
“And I think most would agree that a soccer ball is more than a material gift – it allows a child, or adult, to participate with others, learn team work, accept and conquer small challenges, and build their minds a bodies a little bit,” Eric said.
Soccer is the only major sport in Iraq, and at first the Iraqi people looked askance at the American soldiers’ playing ability. “They doubted us a first, but we have impressed some of them with American soccer skills,” he said.
Deflated balls are easiest to ship. New or used balls and any type of soccer equipment is needed. “People may have old balls or soccer equipment sitting in a garage gathering dust,” said Eric. “With a used ball I can tell them it is a gift from an American who wanted an Iraqi who also loves soccer to be able to play - not for money or competition, but for the love of the sport.”
On March 17, the Major Indoor Soccer League team the Philadelphia KiXX announced that, “The club has partnered with the Defense Department’s ‘America Supports You,’ as well as several branches of the United States Military and Eastern Pennsylvania Youth Soccer Association (EPSYA) to distribute soccer balls to the youth players throughout the countries of Afghanistan and Iraq. Any fan bringing a new soccer ball to the team’s home finale versus the Baltimore Blast on Saturday, April 8 will receive a voucher for a complimentary ticket to a KiXX home game in the 2006-07 season.”
Individuals or groups interested in helping Iraqi children by participating in Eric’s Goal, may email firstname.lastname@example.org for further information.