News: US, RAF and host nation team up in Friendship Games
Story by 1st Lt. Susan Harrington
UNDISCLOSED LOCATION - United States Air Force, Royal Air Force and host nation service members from across the base participated in a Friendship Games tournament at the 379th Air Expeditionary Wing here, Oct. 27, 29 and 31, illustrating the partnership between the participating services and countries.
"We are fortunate to have the good relations we do with our gracious host nation," said Brig. Gen. Roger Watkins, the 379th Air Expeditionary Wing commander. "To have this opportunity to spend time together in friendly sporting matches gives us time to connect as good neighbors, not just as military counterparts."
The games were held at the local military compound's soccer stadium and hosted by the local base commander Brig. Gen. Abdulla Jassim Al Meraikhi.
"I am proud to host the different teams here on our compound," said Al Meraikhi. "It is so important to maintain our partnership, and friendly games such as these events just strengthen those already solid working relationships we have."
The Friendship Games concept began a few months ago when service members from the British Royal Air Force decided to plan a base-wide soccer tournament for all countries to participate in.
"We wanted something the entire base could participate in, no matter the nationality," said British Squadron Leader Lee Wood, an Air Space Management Officer working at the Combined Air and Space Operations Center and the RAF team captain. "The games were a way to interact with our coalition and host nation partners on a fun, friendly level."
Teaming up with Maj. Mark Jarrett, the 379th AEW Host Nation Coordination Cell sports event coordinator, deployed here from Spangdahlem Air Base, Germany, and an Atlanta native, together they worked to include the local host nation military counterparts in the matches. Friendly games alongside the host nation military partners had not occurred in a number of years, so much logistical coordination had to take place over many cups of tea.
"We were happy to participate in the tournament," said Lt. Col. Saeed Al Marri, the local security forces commander, who works often with the coalition partners on the base. "This way we could get to know each other outside the work environment ... building the much needed relationships to effectively accomplish our mission as partners."
A dedicated soccer player and long distance runner in his youth, Al Marri said he was excited to work together with the U.S. and British forces to meet each other in competition on the friendly fields of sport.
The games were held over a series of days at the local military soccer stadium, with the host nation and Royal Air Force kicking off the tournament. The host nation defeated the RAF 4-1. The second game, played between the U.S. Air Force team against the RAF ended in a high-scoring 4 to 4 tie match. In the final matchup, the local nation again claimed the win against U.S. Air Force 3-1.
"It was fantastic to see the U.S. Air Force embody their spirit of "one team, one fight" on the football pitch, even if our boys had the edge during the game," said Group Capt. Domonic Stamp, the RAF Deputy Air Component Commander. "The soccer tournament was a great example of coalition allies building friendships inside and outside the workplace. As ever, we're hugely grateful to our host nation for their support and hospitality."
While the Friendship Games concluded Oct. 31, the coordinators hope they will mark the beginning of a series of continued friendly sports engagements with the host nation partners.
"This was for fun, to enjoy time spent together," said Al Marri. "We are 'Jar Saleh' - good neighbors."