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Coalition Reaches Out With Soccer in Afghanistan

By Spc. Chris Stump, USA
Special to American Forces Press Service

CHARIKAR, Afghanistan, Dec. 4, 2004 – With a final score of 3-1, the Parwan youth soccer team recently defeated its coalition visitor, Team Eagle, at Parwan's home field in Charikar village. After 60 minutes of "futbol," the crowd of nearly 1,000 cheered and rushed onto the field to congratulate the home team on a solid victory.

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The color guard bears the flags of each nation represented in the match. Photo by Spc. Chris Stump, USA
  

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But a victory wasn't the only thing solidified with the match-up between the coalition team and its central-Afghanistan hosts. The match reinforced the coalition's good intentions and the progress that allowed personnel to spend a peaceful morning playing soccer in the local community.

"It was beautiful. In the future, I hope this can happen again," said Wahid Qanit, a youth soccer coach and interpreter for base operations on Bagram Air Base. And with all that is planned for the future, it should happen again.

"I wanted to use soccer as a medium to reach out to the local community," said 1st Lt. Joshua Walters, 2nd Battalion, 265th Air Defense Artillery Regiment and base operations intelligence officer. Walters also is a full-time high school soccer coach in his hometown of Tallahassee, Fla.

"The idea is to use soccer to reach out to the youth," he said. "They are the ones who will be making decisions about the future of Afghanistan pretty soon."

Walters is working with local leaders to promote soccer, and said he hopes eventually to have men's, women's and youth soccer leagues throughout the country.

Soccer, he said, has the potential to serve as a centerpiece of Afghanistan's culture and to help draw people closer. "I think soccer is a great tool to pull people together," said Walters. "There's a huge divide; soccer can give the country a national identity." To help Afghans on their way to developing a national sport, Walters spends what little free time he has working in the local community.

"I'm a soccer coach back home, so I thought it would be great to use that here to help the people," said Walters. And the response has been great, as people are welcoming the sport "with open arms," he said. "The amount of passion you see from them is amazing."

And passion they showed during the match, never slowing down and playing as if it were a Major League Soccer championship game.

"I'm very happy coalition forces have come here to have a match against the team from Parwan province. It's good for (the) advancement of soccer, and is something good for young men to do," said Mohammed Fayed, Imam Azam High School director and Bagram Post Exchange cashier.

It also makes one Coalition officer feel like he's contributing something great to a country that needs to unite. "When I left home, and left coaching soccer, I felt like there was something missing," said Walters. "Since I've started getting Afghans involved in soccer, it feels like I've come full circle and am making a huge impact in these kids' lives.

"I've played in a lot of games, but this one was pretty cool," he continued. "Back home you play so many games you forget individual ones, but the kids who watched this game will remember it forever."

(Army Spc. Chris Stump is assigned to the 17th Public Affairs Detachment.)

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Click photo for screen-resolution imagePolish Cpl. Mariusz Kozak, a member of Team Eagle, scores a goal against the Parwan youth soccer Team. Photo by Spc. Chris Stump, USA  
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Click photo for screen-resolution imageAn Afghan player moves the ball past coalition defenders during the match. Photo by Spc. Chris Stump, USA  
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