WARDAK PROVINCE, Afghanistan - The latest game of the Airborne Premier Soccer League kicked off April 12, 2014, at Assistance Platform Airborne in Wardak province, Afghanistan, with a match played between a team of Spartan Soldiers of the 1st Battalion, 32nd Infantry Regiment, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division (Light Infantry), and an international team of civilian workers and contractors.
As the ball was kicked up and down the field, they were no longer Soldiers or workers, they were just players with one thing on their mind: winning the game.
Different sports were tried in an effort to stir up interest in some type of organized team event. Basketball had no success while volleyball saw only moderate interest, mainly from the Afghan interpreters.
Some of the Spartan Soldiers had been playing soccer while at Fort Drum, N.Y., even sponsoring an indoor league called the Task Force Chosin.
“We competed at the Watertown, New York YMCA very successfully, and it was a big morale boost. It also helped build unit cohesion,” said U.S. Army 1st Lt. Samuel Freakly.
Having a unit with numerous soccer enthusiasts, they decided to try a soccer tournament. It was held Jan. 1, 2014, and was a success, bringing teams from all over the base.
“We did a tournament first and during the tournament, I realized that everybody from the installation participated, to include the U.S. and Romanian Special Forces, the dining facility and the Oasis restaurant, which is run by Afghans. We got teams from every entity on the installation,” said U.S. Army Command Sgt. Maj. Viriato Ferrera, 1st Battalion, 32nd Regiment’s senior enlisted adviser.
The resounding success of the tournament clearly proved there was enough interest to create a league. A schedule was created and the league was launched shortly the tournament. The current season began April 5, 2014.
“Late January is really when the first league began. We would play two nights a week, and we had between eight to 10 teams, and it has just grown from there. We're on our third season now," said Freakly.
The league has grown steadily in both the number of teams and popularity. The first season saw eight teams compete; there are now 11 teams. The length of the season depends on the number of teams. Currently, each team plays 10 games, which constitute a season, said Freakly.
The participants normally play the matches in the evening hours three times a week to give everyone an opportunity to participate. The teams play the matches Mondays, Wednesdays and Saturdays
“Soccer is the world's game. In pretty much any corner of the globe you go to, you're going to find people playing it. Not only have the Task Force Chosin Soldiers gotten to enjoy it, but all of the contractors - whether they're from the dining facility, the bazaar or the special forces come out to play. It’s something to look forward to,” said Freakly.
Besides the recreational benefits, the league has also had an impact on the base's population, which has helped improve relationships between everyone involved in the day-to-day operations, making for a more cohesive team. The friendly environment at the matches has encouraged even non-soccer players to give the game try.
“It really helps to pass the time and besides, I like to watch everybody else get really fired up,” said U.S. Army Staff Sgt. David Linzy, the operations non-commissioned officer for Echo Company, 1st Battalion, 32nd Infantry Regiment.
The relationships have been greatly impacted. People are talking to each other. The contractors that work in the dining facility have met other workers as well as soldiers from different countries, making communication easier and more efficient throughout the base, said Ferrera.