FALLUJAH, Iraq --
FALLUJAH, Iraq – The name of a fallen military member catches the eye of an Iraqi child as he holds a soccer ball just handed to him by a team of Coalition forces. This name, written across the glossy finish and bright gleam of the soccer ball, tells the story of a young service member who strived to bring a sense of happiness to the lives of others.
Civil Affairs Marines with Detachment 3, Team 5, Regimental Combat Team 1, have started handing out boxes of soccer balls to young Iraqi children in Fallujah, Iraq, during several recent missions conducted by the team.
Although not part of their normal mission that they conduct on a daily basis, CAG Marines have started inflating and handing out brightly colored soccer balls to mob scenes of jubilant Iraqi children.
These Marines have found time to not only to make a few Iraqi children happy, but fulfill the wishes of a family and one kind-hearted teenager who donated soccer balls to honor a young Army soldier who was killed while conducting combat operations in Iraq.
“Soccer is a huge deal for the children around here,” said Chief Warrant Officer Shane M. Duhe, CAG-5 team leader. “When I give each child a soccer ball, I tell them that it has a name on it of someone who fought for their freedom.”
The name on the soccer balls belongs to Pfc. Nicholas A. Madaras, a 19-year-old from Wilton, Conn. He was part of a Personnel Security Detachment with the 1-68 Combined Arms Battalion and was known for his ability to effortlessly make his comrades-in-arms and everyone around him smile.
While growing up, Nick would spend countless hours playing soccer and often took the opportunity to teach family and friends a thing or two about the game. Nick dedicated himself to playing soccer and when the season was over, he would simply take the game to his backyard.
Nick joined the Army in July 2005. Shortly after finishing training, he was assigned to his unit and quickly headed underway to the country of Iraq.
“I am told he was very professional when on duty, but I know he could be somewhat of a cut-up when on his own time,” said Bill Madaras, Nick’s father. “I am also told that he used this down-time to help lighten things for his teammates.”
During Nick’s deployment, he would often speak to his family members and friends about how talented many Iraqi children were at the game of soccer and how they would use anything they could find as a soccer ball. He also expressed a desire to send soccer balls to Iraq, so he could bring a smile to the faces of the young children.
Nick was never given this chance. His time was cut short after an improvised explosive device took his life in Baqubah, Iraq, Sept. 3, 2006.
Since his tragic death, family members and friends have started a project that ships soccer balls to deployed service members. People from all over the United States have started donating soccer balls to the Madaras family, who in turn ship them overseas. This project soon became known as “Kick for Nick.”
Each military unit that receives the soccer balls distributes them to children they pass by playing in the streets of Iraq.
Now instead of kicking around a sack of rocks or a can, many children have the opportunity to play soccer with a genuine, official sized soccer ball.
“Nick wanted to help those children through their common love of soccer,” said Bill. “If through these soccer balls he is still able to do that, for soldiers he never knew, then yes, I know he is smiling at this moment.”
After Kick for Nick started, a short video clip was aired on an ESPN television channel describing the program and Nick’s life.
A young teenager watching the program decided he wanted to become involved. He began petitioning to community members from his hometown and soon gathered an entire shed filled with soccer balls.
“For the Madaras family, this is huge,” said Ed Feiler, a large contributor of soccer balls. “Their son gave his life for us to be free and this stranger from Cave Creek, Arizona wants to keep his memory going.”
Feiler soon became deeply involved in the project and eventually sought out Nick’s aunt. After meeting her, he took her to see what he had been doing over the past several months.
“After I met Barbara, she was filled with emotion after seeing the shed filled with 2,000 soccer balls all with Nick’s name written on them,” said Feiler.
Feiler’s efforts to collect soccer balls eventually made their way to Fallujah, Iraq, where CAG Marines received a box filled with the balls and began distributing them.
Kick for Nick now has support and responses from 291 cities in 46 states and 36 college campuses throughout America.
“People back home want to honor the military out here, we do our part by passing out the soccer balls,” said Duhe. “When I first received a letter asking if we could help with the soccer balls, I felt heart-fully obligated.”
Nick’s legacy continues to live on in lives of many in the war-torn country of Iraq. Several children throughout Fallujah, now enjoy a game of soccer with a special ball containing the name of one Army soldier who strived to make a difference in the lives of others.