Image courtesy: Capt. Austin Luher
In one of the most dangerous areas of the world, a group of American soldiers kicked around a soccer ball with Afghan children caught in the iron grip of terrorism. The war in Afghanistan didn't pause on June 20 in Kandahar, but for a few special minutes, grown men and growing kids got a fleeting glimpse at what could be.
“It’s the little things, like this soccer game, that will go a long way in helping improve relations and ultimately the safety of U.S. soldiers and people of Afghanistan,” said Staff Sgt. Christopher Hanna, escort platoon sergeant. “I just hope that we can do things like this again in the near future.”
Many U.S. troops serving in Afghanistan and Iraq have children of their own. Some, like Capt. Joshua McClimans, promise their kids that despite so much time apart, they will soon be together again. These must be the hardest promises to make, as the small, but very real possibility of being killed in action undoubtedly has a permanent spot in the back of a deployed warrior's mind.
Since June 23, the Department of Defense has released the names of 17 American troops killed in combat.
Pfc. Joshua Jetton, 21, Sebring, Florida
Spc. Levi Nuncio, 24, Harrisonburg, Virginia
Cpl. Gurpreet Singh, 21, Antelope, California
Spc. Nicholas Hensley, 28, Prattville, Alabama
Sgt. Marlon Myrie, 25, Oakland Park, Florida
Gunnery Sgt. Ralph Pate Jr., 29, Mullins, South Carolina
Tech. Sgt. Daniel Douville, 33, Harvey, Louisiana
Spc. Kevin Hilaman, 28, Albany, California
1st Lt. Dimitri Del Castillo, 24, Tampa, Florida
Staff Sgt. Nigel Kelly, 26, Menifee, California
Cpl. Michael Nolen, 22, Spring Valley, Wisconsin
Lance Cpl. John Farias, 20, New Braunfels, Texas
Staff Sgt. Donald Stacy, 23, Avondale, Arizona
Lance Cpl. Mark Goyet, 22, Sinton, Texas
Spc. Nicholas Bernier, 21, East Kingston, New Hampshire
Staff Sgt. Russell Proctor, 25, Oroville, California
Pfc. Dylan Johnson, 20, Tulsa, Oklahoma
Several of these departed warriors had children, who are now forced to grow up without being able to have a catch or kick the soccer ball around with their dads. Tragically, the fallen service members without children never got the chance to become great dads. In communities around the nation, from Harrisonburg, Virginia, to Antelope, California, all of these brave men will be deeply and dearly missed.
Back in Kandahar, soldiers of Assassin Company wrapped up a fun soccer game with kids who aren't accustomed to feeling safe. While these soldiers can't promise that these kids will always be protected, as war zones are filled with danger and unpredictability, I don't think anyone is risking more than our troops to keep the children of Afghanistan and Iraq safe.
Tragically punctuated by the combat deaths of 17 more American heroes, Afghanistan and Iraq are still perilous places filled with violence, tragedy, and fear. Someday, thanks to our brave men and women in uniform, they could be filled with children playing soccer in the streets.
Image courtesy: Staff Sgt. Joe Armas
Note: This post was updated at 11:45 a.m. EDT on June 30 to reflect new casualty information released by the Department of Defense.