CHEBELLEY VILLAGE, Djibouti - U.S. Service members assigned to Combined Joint Task Force - Horn of Africa, visited Chebelley Village, August 3.
Approximately 30 Soldiers and Airmen interacted with local children as part of an outreach event coordinated by the 404th Civil Affairs Battalion.
“We are out here to play soccer with the kids in Chebelley Village,” said Capt. Deandre Garlington, a civil affairs officer with the 404th. “They don’t have a lot here, but the one thing they do have is space to play soccer and a passion for the game.”
One Airman that attended the game was also excited for the opportunity to volunteer after participating in a previous event.
“I enjoy being able to contribute to community outreach events,” said Airman 1st Class Taylor Simmons, a services journeyman with the 870th Air Expeditionary Squadron. “I think the soccer game went very well and I enjoyed being able to spend time with the local women and kids.”
Service members from the 404th typically visit Chebelley Village a few times a month. Tasked with building and maintaining relationships, these visits often include speaking with the elders and discussing issues that they’re facing. These meetings often end with a quick pick-up soccer game with local children.
“A lot of coordination goes into this,” said Garlington. “It’s not something that we can just show up and do here. We have to get permission from the village elders, the village leaders, the people who actually work with government officials to try to get the people here basic resources, the basic things they need on a day-to-day basis.”
In addition to the multiple meetings and conversations it took to coordinate the game, many of the visits to the village included searching out the best location to play soccer.
“I definitely think they [the villagers] are appreciative of this,” said Garlington. “I consider it to be an honor and a privilege to be here doing this, not only for the village and the people of Djibouti, but also for Nick.”
The “Nick” Garlington is referring to is U.S. Army Pfc. Nicholas Madaras. An avid soccer fan, Nick both coached and played soccer in his youth. Sadly, while deployed to Iraq in 2006, he was killed by an improvised explosive device.
“He [Nick] noticed in Iraq that the kids loved playing soccer but they didn’t have any soccer balls,” said Garlington. “He went home on leave and while on leave he thought about the kids in Iraq and how they loved soccer and how he loved playing soccer, so he decided to collect soccer balls to take back to Iraq and distribute to the kids.”
But Nick never got the chance to share what he had collected with the kids.
“Unfortunately once he got to Iraq he wasn’t able to distribute them,” Garlington said. “Nick was killed in the line of duty and he wasn’t able to hand out those soccer balls. The Kick for Nick program is actually done in his honor.”
Since September of 2006, the “Kick for Nick” program has distributed over 52,245 balls in over 47 countries.
“I think today was a success because we had a big turnout, not just from the U.S. side, but also from the Djiboutian side,” said Garlington. “In addition to children of all ages, we also had Djiboutian women who often tend to be forgotten about, show up. They’re interacting with our American females and our interpreters. They’re singing and dancing, so it’s a win for everybody.”