Soccer ball diplomacy: Airmen visit Niger

Capt. Erin Dorrance
Kaiserslautern American

***image1***Niger villagers were smiling ear-to-ear in July when 14 Ramstein Airmen handed out 30 soccer balls and 1,000 pounds of rice.

The 787th Air Expeditionary Squadron, composed of a six-person team from the 24th Intelligence Squadron and an eight-person team from the 1st Combat Communications Squadron, is deployed to Niger for an Eagle Vision mission. The focus of the deployment is to collect satellite imagery from commercial satellites for map-making purposes.    

“Whenever we deploy on Eagle Vision missions, we help out host nations,” said Capt. Ben Powell, 787th AES commander.  

The squadron, which deployed to Niger July 1, collected 30 donated soccer balls from KMC members.

“Usually the kids [in Niger] kick around a balled-up shirt, or anything that rolls,” he said.  “When we started handing out soccer balls, they all wanted to touch them.  They ran off with huge smiles.”

The children of the Karadje village were not the only ones who received gifts. Villagers poured into the streets when the Airmen handed out 1,000 pounds of rice.

“We heard the largest need in the village was food, so we donated money out of our pockets and bought rice,” said 1st Lt. Ken Malloy, a 1st CBCS deployed team member.  

Each family in the village filled their bowl with a serving of rice, which feeds a family of four for one week, he said.  

“They were ecstatic,” said Lieutenant Malloy.  “It was great to give back to people that needed it the most.”  

Niger is one of the poorest countries in the world and was ranked last on the United Nations Development Fund index of human development, according to CIA reports.  The land-locked sub-Saharan nation, whose economy relies on subsistence crops and livestock, is populated with several struggling villages like Karadje.

The 787th AES team members are highly-trained Airmen who deploy to bare base locations, such as Niger, and “set up camp.”  

However, the team was surprised to confront one of the most difficult deployed locations they could recall, said Captain Powell.  Daily sand and electrical storms make operating technical equipment a challenge. 
Nevertheless, the team continues to successfully carry out their mission despite 100 degree days and no running water available to them at their camp, he said.

“I am so proud of our deployed team,” said Lt. Col. Joe Sublousky, 1st CBCS commander.  “They excel at what they have been trained to do and are doing it under the most challenging of circumstances.  Helping out those less fortunate is something every squadron member would do and these deployed personnel are representing us in a great way.  They are ambassadors not only for the U.S. Air Force, but for the human race.”