By Air Force Capt. David Faggard
Special to American Forces Press Service
Oct. 6, 2009 - In a Soviet-era aircraft hangar here, a rivalry born during the Battle of the Red River is still alive and well. But now that energy is supporting the Afghan people. Air Force Maj. Tobin Griffeth, an avid University of Texas fan, and Air Force Capt. Katie Illingworth, a University of Oklahoma alum, created a personal game honoring the two schools' annual football rivalry, which every year is the talk of the two bordering states.
They enlist family-member support back home, giving one point to the corresponding school that donates a box of items such as school supplies, clothes and shoes to the people of Afghanistan.
Texas is in the lead with 10 points, and Oklahoma has yet to get on the scoreboard, but Illingworth promised that "boxes are coming."
"Yeah right," Griffeth quipped to the captain, flashing a "Hook 'em, Horns" hand-signal.
"We started this because it's the right thing to do," said Griffeth, a Schertz, Texas, native and graduate of University of Texas, Arlington, and North Kentucky's Law School. "In a war where we'll spend millions on bombs or missiles, it only makes sense to spend money on clothes, or socks. I think this is a basic way we could help stop the Taliban and the insurgency -- by winning [the Afghan people's] hearts and minds."
It's also a way for Americans back home to help the Afghan people, he added. "They don't have much," he noted, "and they hear nothing but bad things about America."
The two officers team with Army task forces on the ground and the local chaplains, who often meet with village elders throughout Afghanistan to distribute the aid from the people of Texas and Oklahoma.
War puts the rivalry game in perspective.
"It's somewhat trivial," Illingworth, an Oklahoma City native and OU graduate, said about the rivalry game back home. "But, it's not as trivial as some think. Our rivalry is a big deal, and this is a unique channel that allows people back home to support their teams and support America. The energy is there already; we're just trying to redirect it somewhere else."
The group asks that no food or money be sent, but donations of winter clothes, school supplies and shoes are accepted. Donations can be sent via flat-rate priority boxes to CJTF-82-OSJA, APO AE 09354, addressed to Griffeth for Texas or Illingworth for Oklahoma.
The game started when their families asked the two officers what they could do to help. Soon, a postal worker in Texas started to send boxes as well, and now college fraternities, churches and an Eagle Scout are assisting. Even the airmen's hometowns are involved, and donations are streaming in, Illingworth said.
It's the goal of the two to get help from other universities too. They hope other college rivalries will pitch in, and mentioned the Alabama-Auburn Army-Navy rivalries specifically.
Griffeth is deployed from Randolph Air Force Base, Texas, and Illingworth is deployed from Hickam Air Force Base, Hawaii. Illingworth is a graduate of Catholic University's Law School in Washington, D.C.
The lawyers are deployed supporting Operation Enduring Freedom's Combined Joint Task Force 82 in the Office of the Staff Judge Advocate. They both are fiscal and contracting lawyers.
(Air Force Capt. David Faggard serves in the 455th Air Expeditionary Wing public affairs office.)