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Battalion commander keeps promise, delivers soccer gear to Iraqi kids

22 Aug 2006 | Lance Cpl. Ray Lewis

“Betio Bastards’” top officer stuck to his word.

Lt. Col. Todd S. Desgrosseilliers, battalion commander for 3rd Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment, and his Jump Platoon Marines brought two soccer goals and armfuls of soccer balls to the kids of Mudiq Aug. 22.

“We promised to bring them, so we’re going to bring them out,” said Desgrosseilliers, from Auburn, Maine.

He guaranteed the sports supplies as a reward for transforming a local trash dump into a soccer field during a community assistance mission there ten days earlier.

The Iraqi children got excited about the soccer field as soon as Marines started unloading the gear. A recreation area like this is rare in an urban neighborhood such as Mudiq.

“You should have seen the kids,” said Cpl. Mario O. Huerta, a 22-year-old from Dallas, who serves as platoon sergeant for Desgrosseilliers’ jump team. “I was patrolling up and down the street and the whole town was happy.”

Huerta said he could relate to the young soccer stars.  He shares their passion for game.

“Soccer is my life,” he said. “I’m a soccer player, so if someone did that for me when I was a kid, I know it would make my day.”

Huerta and his cousins used to play soccer as children during Easter gatherings at a park near his childhood home.

“I would always be ready for that,” he said. “I’d be ready to show off.”

Iraqi children were ready to put their skills on display too. Kids were more than anxious to kick around the checker-patterned inflated ball the Marines had in hand.

Children grabbed for the “footballs,” as they call it, but the Marines didn’t mind.

Marines said the new gear will not only keep the kids busy, but also help keep the kids out of the street where insurgents hide improvised explosive devices.

“It gives them a place to play, which is good,” said Lance Cpl. Idoroenyin O. Etokakpan, a 22-year-old member of the Jump team from Bronx, N.Y.

Etokakpan, a motor transport operator, said watching the children reminded him of when he and his brother played soccer back in the grasslands of his homeland of Africa before he immigrated to the United States.

“I looked at them and I thought, ‘I used to do that as a kid,’” Etokakpan said. “That’s the only game I played in Africa and back in the states.”

2nd Lt. Jon R. Mueller, Desgrosseilliers’ Jump Platoon commander, said the gesture is bigger than delivering a luxury to Iraqi children.

“It shows Iraq that the United States follows through on its promises,” said Mueller, a 29-year-old ground intelligence officer from Jacksonville, N.C. “Both large and small scale.”

Etokakpan said it’s because it puts good credit on America and on Coalition Forces.

“It gives them more trust in the troops that if we make a promise it will come true,” he said. “The only way were going to win the war is by gaining the locals’ trust.”

With the kids’ uproarious reaction to the gifts, the Marines are coming closer to gaining the locals favor.

Mueller had no doubts that his commander would follow through.

“You can tell by talking to him that he was going to fulfill his promise,” he said.

Huerta can’t disagree.

“I’ve never seen him not do what he said,” Huerta said. “He’s always going to do what he says.”