America Supports You: KiXX Soccer Team Ensures Iraqi Children Have a Ball
By Samantha L. Quigley
American Forces Press Service
PHILADELPHIA, Apr. 9, 2006 Philadelphia's indoor soccer team kicked its support for U.S. servicemembers into high gear last night when it announced its partnership with the "America Supports You" program.
Jessica Hallowell, 10, of Mertztown, Pa., donates a soccer ball at the Philadelphia KiXX's April 8 home game. The more than 1,000 soccer balls collected will be shipped to children in Iraq. Photo by Samantha L. Quigley
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
"We're glad to help the military," said Jeffrey B. Rotwitt, owner of the KiXX, a Major Indoor Soccer League team.
America Supports You is a nationwide Defense Department program that helps showcase Americans' support for the men and women of the armed forces.
The KiXX project began when a 7-year-old heard his uncle, serving in Iraq, tell about the conditions in the country, Rotwitt said. The uncle said the youth of Iraq love soccer, but because of conditions in the country, soccer balls are scarce.
"(The boy asked if,) since I owned a soccer team, could I help the balls get to the youth of Iraq?" he said. "We decided we would give to everybody who came and brought a soccer ball a free ticket for another game."
The result of Operation Soccer Ball was more than 1,000 soccer balls donated for Iraq's youth.
"This is a wonderful idea, and we are so grateful to the KiXX for what they are doing for the Iraqi children," said Allison Barber, deputy assistant secretary of defense for public affairs. "Every day we see our troops finding ways to do something special for the children in Iraq, and this is an important contribution to that effort."
America Supports You connects organizations like the KiXX and its fans to the nation's servicemembers, who in turn show their care and concern for Iraq's children, she said.
Utah Army National Guard Chief Warrant Officer 5 Paul Holton saw firsthand during his 14 months in Iraq the importance of these bridge-building efforts. He said events like the KiXX-sponsored soccer ball donation are key to getting the American public involved.
"It not only gets people to support the troops, but it's good for people to get involved with something positive, to do something to help the soldiers," he said. "It helps the soldiers who build bridges ... to kind of bridge over misunderstandings and hatred and reach out and touch the people and let them know we care about them."
Holton's organization, "Operation Give," also an America Supports You team member, will help get the soccer balls to the young players, he said. The balls will be consolidated, packed in boxes and shipped to Operation Give's warehouse in Salt Lake City, Utah.
"We're ... going to actually get FedEx to pick them up from Salt Lake City and get them airlifted, shipped to Baghdad," he said.
In Baghdad, military and Iraqi civilian members of Operation Give will handle the soccer ball distribution and keep building bridges, Holton said.
Jessica Hallowell's donation will be among those shipped to Iraq. The 10-year-old Mertztown, Pa., resident said she hopes Iraqi children will have fun playing soccer, a game she loves.
"It's not like they have to win," she said. "It's just about having fun."
Bob Daniels, who had a hand in planning the event, said efforts like Operation Soccer Ball are crucial and he hopes it goes league-wide next season. Daniels is chairman of the Ben Franklin Global Forum, an education and outreach program.
"If it just saves the life of one or two of our troops, while at the same time giving the children of Iraq an understanding that the people in this country care about them and wish them success, then we're building the right kind of bridges," he said.