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Soccer Gives Afghans Positive Outlet With Soldiers' Help

By Sgt. Jeremy A. Clawson, USA
Special to American Forces Press Service

LASHKAR GAH, Afghanistan, Dec. 23, 2004 – For leaders in Helmund province in southern Afghanistan, soccer is more than merely a fun pastime for youth. Soccer is being used to give young men a positive outlet and wholesome source of entertainment to share with others.

Click photo for screen-resolution image
Army Sgt. Andy Grentz, 209th Military Police Company, goes after the ball during a soccer game in Lashkar Gah, Afghanistan. Photo by Sgt. Jeremy A. Clawson, USA

(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.

The Lashkar Gah minister of sports, Mohammed Gaus, recently approached Maj. Reginald Truss, 450th Civil Affairs Battalion, at the Lashkar Gah Provincial Reconstruction Team headquarters to inquire about sports equipment for a proposed soccer league.

By building a league, local leaders wanted to give youth a sense of belonging and purpose, replacing idle hours with a focused teamwork and fitness. Truss and his command agreed the positive message justified funding the project.

The CA team spent $16,000 outfitting not only 25 soccer teams with balls, nets and cleats, but also 25 volleyball teams and 25 cricket teams. Also, the civil affairs soldiers hope the men's league succeeds, and would like to start a women's league as well.

To bring the community together in a show of solidarity, Gaus and Truss arranged to have a local soccer team play against soldiers from the Lashkar Gah PRT.

"The game came about to convey that (U.S. soldiers) are human and like to have a good time," said Truss. At the game, held at the Lashkar Gah Sports Complex in Karzai Stadium, the civil affairs team also provided a public announcement system. The PRT commander, Marine Lt. Col. Eugene Augustine, spoke to the crowd of more than 500 spectators before the soccer game began. "You are the future of Afghanistan. Education, democracy and hard work are the future of Afghanistan," he said.

The soldiers who played soccer against the Afghan team were force protection and civil affairs soldiers from the PRT, and members of the 209th Military Police Company. The game was a great opportunity for the soldiers, and a chance to give to the community, Truss said. "This also gives our force protection guys something fun."

Truss said the game was one way to show good things are happening. "This is a good-news event that was generated by Afghans and Americans, and we hope to do more events like this to pull the community together," he said.

With the PRT providing sports equipment, enabling Afghans to enhance existing sports programs and start new ones, Truss said he expects a broader group of children and young adults to have greater access to the world of sports.

(Army Sgt. Jeremy A. Clawson is assigned to the 105th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment.)

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