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Afghan Girls on Sports Trip to U.S. Visit Pentagon

By Kathleen T. Rhem
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, June 30, 2004 – Nine young Afghan girls visiting the United States to attend a sports camp stopped by the Pentagon today and were greeted by senior DoD leaders' wives and a high-ranking State Department official.

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Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld poses for a photo outside the Pentagon June 30 with Afghan girls in the United States to attend a sports camp and members of the girls' traveling party. Photo by Kathleen T. Rhem
  

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The girls were also treated to a soccer clinic by members of the Washington Freedom professional women's soccer team on the parade ground outside the Pentagon. They are participants in the Afghan Youth Sports Exchange, sponsored by the Afghan Center in Kabul, Afghanistan.

Paula Dobriansky, undersecretary of state for global affairs, told the girls she was very excited to have them here.

In an interview while the girls ran through soccer drills with the Freedom players, Dobriansky praised this trip as an opportunity to expand their knowledge base. She said person-to-person contacts with Afghan citizens are important "to indicate and reaffirm to Afghans that we're in for the long haul, that we have a long-term commitment to Afghanistan, to its welfare, to its future and to its people."

The wife of the Afghan ambassador to the United States, Shamim Gawad, echoed Dobriansky's sentiment. She said opportunities like this open doors for all of Afghanistan and that people should compare the situation there today with that of two and a half years ago.

"Women were not allowed to leave home. Children were not allowed to go to school," she said. "And now two and a half years later, it's not just that they're allowed to leave their home and go to school, but they are allowed to play in sports and compete against other teams and travel to other countries.

"This gives them a lot of courage and encourages them for the future," Gawad said.

Freedom member Meredith Beard said she started playing soccer when she was 5, but never imagined an experience like meeting and playing with these young Afghan girls. She said it was a great experience to "touch their lives and have an influence as a woman."

Beard said she hopes the girls will "bring back the understanding that women can do whatever they set their minds to."

The girls also met Joyce Rumsfeld, wife of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld; Mary Jo Myers, whose husband, Air Force Gen. Richard Myers, is chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; and Lynne Pace, wife of Marine Gen. Peter Pace, Joint Chiefs vice chairman, as well as other prominent women from the State and Treasury departments.

Through a translator, 14-year-old Roia Noor Ahmad, said it's an honor and a privilege for her and her teammates "to be here at the presence of all the Afghan and American friends." She said she'd been excited about playing soccer with the Freedom players.

Secretary Rumsfeld was not scheduled to meet with the group, but he dropped in during a scrimmage game to greet the girls. After being introduced, young Roia wasn't shy about sharing her feelings with the secretary.

"Mr. Secretary, all the girls we are very, very happy and very pleased to be here," she said through a translator. "We have one message for you, ... please don't forget the Afghan girls and Afghan women."

Rumsfeld's answer was simple, but carried a lot of weight. "We won't," he said. "You can count on it."

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Biographies:
Paula Dobriansky

Click photo for screen-resolution imageJoyce Rumsfeld, wife of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, greets a group of Afghan girls, who are attending a sports camp in the United States, outside the Pentagon June 30. Photo by Kathleen T. Rhem  
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Click photo for screen-resolution imageMembers of the Washington Freedom women's professional soccer team run through soccer drills outside the Pentagon June 30 with Afghan girls visiting the United States. Photo by Kathleen T. Rhem  
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Click photo for screen-resolution imageWashington Freedom forward Meredith Beard teaches 13-year-old Razeia Ghulam Rasoul, of Kabul, Afghanistan, how to "juggle" a soccer ball by bouncing it from one knee to the other during drills outside the Pentagon June 30. Photo by Kathleen T. Rhem  
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Click photo for screen-resolution imageWashington Freedom defender Lindsay Stoecker teaches a young Afghan girl a soccer drill outside the Pentagon June 30. Photo by Kathleen T. Rhem  
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Click photo for screen-resolution imageDefense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld speaks outside the Pentagon June 30 to Afghan girls in the United States to attend a sports camp. Members of the Washington Freedom professional women's soccer team look on. Photo by Kathleen T. Rhem  
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