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Local soccer gear sparks establishment of Iraqi soccer league

January 02, 2007|by ANDREW SCHOTZ

Washington County soccer uniforms and gear have brightened up an Iraqi village.

Jason Miller of Halfway, a first lieutenant in the U.S. Army, said he saw poverty in the small village of Umm al Abid in eastern Baghdad while he served in Iraq for a year.

When he described the conditions to a cousin back home, she rallied support - in the form of soccer.

Boonsboro AYSO, which is affiliated with the American Youth Soccer Organization, contributed about 50 jerseys and several balls, said Paul Kadin, the league's assistant regional commissioner.

The collection spread to other parts of Washington County.

Miller said gear arrived in Iraq in October.

"I knew it was coming," he said. "I didn't know the scale."

There were about 90 jerseys, two dozen soccer balls, 20 pairs of shorts and two dozen pairs of cleats, Miller said.

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The village's muqtar - equivalent to an American mayor - set up a soccer league. With two age groups and three teams in each, more than 100 youths began playing organized soccer, Miller said.

Miller is assigned to the 1st Squadron, 61st Cavalry Regiment, 4th Brigade Combat Team of the 101st Airborne Division, according to a public affairs officer at Fort Campbell, Ky., where the division is based.

Miller said two-thirds of his outfit's missions were humanitarian, and the other third were combat.

Of the two dozen or so villages that Miller saw, Umm al Abid, which has about 3,000 people, especially needed help, he said. It has electricity for about an hour a day and no running water. Its school has little.

Miller, a Scout platoon leader, said Sayyid Sa'ad, the village's muqtar, was friendly and cooperative, pointing out insurgents for American troops.

"I wanted to do something to show him my thanks for all his help and support," Miller said.

He mentioned the village's plight to his cousin, Kim Hawbaker of Boonsboro, whose daughter plays soccer in the league there.

Kadin said the league, which has more than 700 players and about 45 teams, often contributes extra gear to needy causes.

The league orders extra uniforms in case there are late registrants. By the time games begin, it's clear how many spare uniforms are available, he said.

Miller, 27, graduated from Williamsport High School in 1997. He enlisted in the Army in 1999, and graduated from West Point in 2004.

He said his one-year tour of duty in Iraq started in November 2005. He talked about his time in Iraq, including the soccer league, while he was home for Christmas and New Year's Day.

Miller said he expects to serve again in Iraq later this year.

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