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Red Bulls: Kuwaiti & American friendship develops over a game of soccer

First Lt. Duane Kimball kicks a soccer ball while 2nd Lt. Christopher Bernick ru1 / 2
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KUWAIT - The fans were vibrantly reacting to every move on the gridiron. When the whistle blew sounding the end of the game, both squads knew it would be too late. Knowing victory was the only way to end competition, focus needed to remain on one thing and one thing only. Veering the circular pigskin into the net would put the superior force on display, if only for a moment. This is the kind of tenacity Kuwaiti, U.S. Army, and U.S. Air Force players brought to the engagement. We use the term "gridiron," for this was no ordinary soccer (a.k.a. “football”) game.

When considering all the ways to build relationships with foreign countries, one option appears to move to the forefront. Athletic fields are meant for competition. With competition, comes mutual respect among opponents. The Kuwaiti Friendship Sports Tournament provides teams a ball, a field and a cleverly disguised Kuwaiti player dressed as the referee. The 6-8 week schedule is short enough to not burden participants’ Monday morning work requirements, but long enough to rebound from a stinging defeat. Competition play is open to all service members based at Army LSA and Ali Al Salem Air Base, Kuwait.

All outcomes are meticulously documented by the courtside scribe, who just happened to be the first one who fell asleep on the previous night's guard shift. One might ask how a U.S. team mentally prepares for a “football” match hosted in a country that teaches its children to shoot on net prior to learning how to walk.

“I study Kuwaiti soccer theory from open source reports and then establish a working group which conducts team capability and vulnerability assessments”, states Maj. Bruce Kelii, Camp LSA executive officer, who hails from Bloomington, Minn., and is deployed with the 134 Brigade Support Battalion from the Minnesota Army National Guard.

Contrary to typical athletic events, conversations during play are permitted. Both sides use the time to observe the disposition of the other country. After frustrations are cast and opportunities made or lost, friendships emerge.

“I have yet to receive a Facebook friend request from a Kuwaiti,” says Spc. Joshua Schley, from Fairbault, Minn. Schley works as a signal systems support specialist.

For those who prefer not to compete on the fresh tropic dust, a game of volleyball takes slippery sports surfaces to a whole new level. When asked about playing on a surface that never was tickled by a mud-soaked mop, 1st Lt. Jacquelyn Rodrigues, Camp LSA safety officer, from Clearlake, Minn., said, “Some of the players provide great comic relief when attempting to make contact with the ball”.

The real question is do the Kuwaitis use this as an offensive tactic or claim janitorial innocence.

When all that’s left are the stories, smiles, bruises and bumps from a day in the life of a U.S. service member and international sports participants, much appreciation is shown to our host nation. Not only do they partner with us to assure mutual safety, but they also go out of their way to befriend us in the best way they know how. From this grateful participant, the Kuwaiti Friendship Sports Tournament earns two thumbs way up.

Denton (Denny) Newman Jr.
I've worked at the Brainerd Dispatch with various duties since Dec. 7, 1983. Starting off as an Ad Designer and currently Director of Audience Development. The Dispatch has been an interesting and challenging place to work. I'm fortunate to have made many friends, both co-workers and customers.
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