News: Service members compete, build relationships with host nation
Story by Senior Airman Jared Trimarchi
AL UDEID AIR BASE, Qatar -- More than 100 airmen, sailors, soldiers, Marines and civilians teamed up to form basketball, soccer and volleyball teams to compete with the Qatar Emiri air force during their National Sports Day at Al Udeid Air Base, Qatar, Feb. 11, 2014.
The Qatar National Sports Day is an initiative adopted in 2011 by the current Emir, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, to further embed sporting values into the nation's culture and inspire people to participate in sporting activities.
At the base, the host nation set up sporting events, food and drinks, bounce houses for children and even presented trophies to the winning teams.
For the first time, U.S. and coalition service members were invited to participate in the event which emphasized the strong partnership between the host nation and it's guest, said Lt. Col. Craig Punches, who is station here and is the 379th Air Expeditionary Wing Host Nation Coordination Cell deputy director.
"It's very humbling and rewarding to be invited to a family and fitness event to bond in friendships with the Qataris," Punches, who hails from Charleston, S.C., said. "It is very showing of the trust Qataris have in the American people and the American forces that are here in their country as guests."
The relationships forged during the sporting event help build a stronger working relationship with the host nation, Punches added.
"Participating in National Sports Day helps bridge gaps when we have to work together with our host nation," Punches said. "We are able to fall back on the bonds we build here when trying situations happen. Developing these partnerships is the key to success of relationships with the Qataris and the key to success of the military activities in the region."
Khalaf Khalil, a QAEF air base maintenance coordinator who participated in the event said, National Sports Day emphasizes the importance of sports and fitness, and he is glad to share this national event with his American friends.
"Sports mean life, sports mean everything to people," Khalil said. "This is a policy to encourage kids and families, not just the military. We invited our friends from the American forces to join us."
First Lt. Justin Eshleman, a native of Rockton, Ill. who is deployed from Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, Hawaii and played in a soccer match said, "We are grateful to be invited to an event which means so much to the Qataris. We build stronger relationships out here which carries on to the work environment where we interact with our host nation on a day-to-day basis.
We are building on their base and borrowing their land. This is a good way to break the ice and help build our relationships."
The U.S. service member's basketball team and the U.S. and coalition forces volleyball team received trophies for finished first in their sports. The 379th AEW also received a trophy for overall performance.
Maj. Nicole David attributed to this story.