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Iraqis, servicemembers connect through tennis

  • Published
  • By Multi-National Corps Iraq
  • Public Affairs
Military volunteers brought a bit of joy into the lives of Iraqi children as they introduced them to a little-known sport at Area 4, Iraqi Army base in western Baghdad, May 17. 

These volunteers brought tennis to Iraqi children through the gift of donated tennis equipment. This equipment, for the children, brought joy to not only the young players, but to the Iraqi and Coalition servicemembers as well. 

Ernie Rains, the Central Alabama Tennis Association Community Coordinator, thought up the idea of donating tennis equipment to Iraqi children in order to hopefully soften a harsh lifestyle. His gift was realized through the coordinating efforts of friend, fellow CATAC member and Air Force Maj. Willliam O'Sullivan, a Multi-National Corps - Iraq Joint Operation Center chaplain. 

"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 is currently serving in Baghdad. 

Before teaching the Iraqi children the sport of tennis, the servicemembers volunteered their time to first teach the sport to Iraqi Army Soldiers. These soldiers 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 don't usually have time for recreational activities. But, when they are engaged in sports, they are usually playing soccer or volleyball. 

"For most of these guys it's their first time playing tennis," said an Army Special Forces master sergeant who was volunteering his off-duty time. 

Following the round of tennis, the volunteers were treated to a "hospitable lunch" by Maj. Raheem, an IA civil affairs officer who coordinated the event for the Iraqi Army.
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 past 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."