By Monique Reuben
WASHINGTON, July 24, 2006 – A group of golf enthusiasts plans to donate golf clubs, balls, tees, mats and other golf equipment to servicemembers at Camp Taji, a military base in Iraq. U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Abdul Mercado, 36, of 4th Battalion, 42nd Field Artillery, has been playing for 13 years. For the past eight months he has been deployed to Camp Taji and hasn't been able to play the game he loves.
Seeking advice on how he could get golf equipment for his base, he e-mailed "Golfers 4 Freedom" with a request in June. It was a request that Keith Barnett, founder and chairman of Golfers 4 Freedom, was happy to grant. Golfers 4 Freedom is a nonprofit organization that supports servicemembers stationed overseas and their families back home.
Golfers 4 Freedom is a partner in the Defense Departmenbt's "America Supports You" program, which spotlights ways the American public and the corporate sector support the nation's men and women in uniform and their families.
"Most of us in America ... don't feel the pain because, fortunately, we have these men and women that are courageously fighting the battle for us," Barnett said. "You wake up in the morning, same routine; you don't feel like we're at war. So when I got a direct request from an individual serving in Taji, it really touched my heart. So I said anything I can do for this man, I'm going to do it."
Camp Taji, about 30 miles from Baghdad, has several amenities for soldiers, including fast-food restaurants, a basketball court, and softball field. But, for Mercado, the base is missing something -- golf. "For me, golf is therapeutic," he said. "It relaxes me and puts me in another world."
Although he spends the majority of his deployed time working, eating and sleeping, Mercado said he and his fellow servicemembers participate in recreational activities when they have time. But, Camp Taji does not have an area for servicemembers to play golf, which is something Barnett said Golfers 4 Freedom hopes to change soon. Barnett said Mercado has gotten permission from base leaders to set up a small golfing range. Once Golfers 4 Freedom sends over the golf equipment, servicemembers will have an area and equipment to play.
Barnett said Camp Taji can expect to receive the equipment within the next week. This will mark the first time Golfers 4 Freedom has sent golf equipment to servicemembers overseas. "They really don't have much free time, so every little thing that we can give them to ease their trip, to make their trip more comfortable, we'll do," Barnett said. "It gives them morale, and it also gives them a little support. And this lets them go out and get involved and forget about what's going on for a minute or two, and eases their stress."
Golfers 4 Freedom is using money it receives from its new golf membership club, golf tournament fundraisers and donations to buy and ship the golfing equipment to Camp Taji. Barnett, a sales representative for a wholesale company, founded the all-volunteer organization a year ago to promote military membership and the legacy of fallen servicemembers. He said he wants to continue providing golfing equipment and doing other projects to support servicemembers even in peacetime.
"This is a time where everyone's awareness rate is raised because people are dying and people are fighting. And when wars ends, when there is peace, that's almost the worst time because Americans will ignore the fact that we have soldiers still serving and we still need soldiers to volunteer and that there are people that have died for our sacrifices," he said.
"We need to make sure our heroes ...that have served in the past and present, that they're not forgotten," Barnett added. Mercado said he appreciates the gesture. "I think it's just a group of good people trying to help soldiers fighting in Iraq," he said.