American Forces Press Service
May 19, 2008 - U.S. military volunteers brought a bit of joy into the lives of Iraqi children as they introduced them to a little-known sport at an Iraqi army base in western Baghdad, May 17. The volunteers brought tennis equipment for the children, bringing joy not only the young players, but also to the Iraqi and coalition servicemembers involved.
Ernie Rains, community coordinator for the Central Alabama Tennis Association, said he thought donating tennis equipment to Iraqi children might soften a harsh lifestyle. His gift was realized through the coordinating efforts of Air Force Chaplain (Maj.) William O'Sullivan, a Multinational Corps Iraq Joint Operations Center chaplain, who's also his friend and a fellow CATAC member.
"The idea Ernie thought up would enable us to connect with the local populace -- the folks who are distracted by the war," said O'Sullivan, 46, from Tampa, Fla., who serves in Baghdad.
Before teaching the sport to the children, the U.S. servicemembers volunteered their time to teach Iraqi soldiers, who welcomed the chance to learn the game and interact with their coalition counterparts.
"It was a good way for coalition forces to interact with Iraqis in a more casual environment," said Marine 1st Lt. Jessamy J. Buban, 25, from Black Diamond, Wash.
Iraqi soldiers usually don't have time for recreational activities, and when they do engage in sports, they usually play soccer or volleyball.
"For most of these guys, it's their first time playing tennis," an Army Special Forces master sergeant who was volunteering his off-duty time said.
Following the round of tennis, the volunteers were treated to a "hospitable lunch" by an Iraqi army civil affairs officer who coordinated the event for the Iraqi soldiers.
After lunch, the Iraqi children made their appearance on the court.
The excited children were noticeably more chaotic to teach than the soldiers, especially after the balls and rackets were passed out. The children were "just children," a point that struck home for many of the volunteers who were there.
"Kids playing games isn't something that changes drastically among societies," said Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Aaron A. Carr, 35, from Denver. Carr, a father himself, couldn't help but notice how much the children reminded him of his own son at home, despite the cultural differences.
"We thought an introduction to tennis would bridge the gap culturally," O'Sullivan said. "We were right. When people get together, they can share a mutual joy over a sport. It's something all cultures have in common."
(From a Multinational Corps Iraq news release.)