Team Sather fosters relationships with locals

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Amanda Callahan
  • 447th Air Expeditioanry Group Public Affairs
The sounds of children laughing filled the air. A soccer game continued despite the heat and the dust, with parents and friends watching, cheering and joining in to play. This isn't a plush, green soccer field, and these aren't American parents - it's just what happened when neighbors got together to share moments and give small gifts of happiness. Members of Sather Air Base are working together to help rebuild Iraq, but not militarily or through infrastructure, simply by bridging a cultural and economic gap with local Iraqis.

The Good Neighbor Program at Sather was established about a year ago. Airmen donate everything from toys to shampoo in order to help locals while their community tries to rebuild in the shadows of conflict.

"The program builds a relationship with Iraqi families beyond war," said Master Sgt. Crystal Amos, the program coordinator and liaison between the Iraqis and Team Sather. "It shows we care about their needs on a personal level."

Sergeant Amos, deployed from Scott Air Force Base, Ill., helped members of the 447th Air Expeditionary Group sort through the many boxes of goods and helped load them up prior to the monthly visit to disseminate to the Iraqis. Boxes of balls, stuffed animals and shoes are carefully arranged before a line of excited children, ranging in ages from about 3- to 13-years-old. Boxes of clothes and hygiene items waited in a bus to be passed out house to house.

"I am thankful for America, and I am happy anytime you come here" said Major Raheem, an Iraqi father at the location where Airmen passed out belongings. As a father of twins, he smiled lovingly as he spoke and looked at his two girls who were holding their new stuffed animals.

Staff Sgt. Deric VanBree, 447th Expeditionary Operations Support Squadron deployed from Hill AFB, Utah, was one of the 20-plus Airmen who volunteered their time with the Iraqi families.

"It's nice to help these guys," he continued, "and it's great to see the excited kids -- especially with the soccer balls!"

The memory of some of these children brought one Airman back to the area. After participating in the program during his deployment last year, Tech. Sgt. Matthew Land, 447th Expeditionary Communications Squadron deployed from Robins AFB, Ga., remembered the smiles and the looks on the children's faces and had to participate again.
"I do it to see the kids," he said after he helped a little girl try on a new pair of shoes. "I have three [children], so it makes me feel better while I'm here. Those smiles say they're happy we're here."

While half the group visited the homes, the other half helped the children break in their new soccer balls with a game in the desert dust. While sounds of children laughing and Airmen bantering about who's better filled the air, others were visualizing a deeper meaning to the visit.

"This helps me, as a chaplain, ensure some spiritual wellness is met," said Chaplain (Capt.) David Knight, 447 AEG chaplain deployed from Nellis AFB, Nev. "When we give of ourselves, we can make a difference in culture; being a whole person, not focused on our own needs, both as military members and as human beings." He added that the program is the primary outreach to Iraqi families, and he wanted to participate in the experience to help pass on the opportunity to other members of Team Sather.

Small children hugged new teddy bears, and older boys played games in the dirt, meanwhile, bridges were being built. After loading on the bus to return to Sather, both Americans and Iraqis exchanged "salaams," with the Airmen looking forward to the next trip to help rebuild a nation, one family at a time.