SOTO CANO AIR BASE, Honduras –
Joint Task Force-Bravo's Medical Element joined with "Kick for Nick," a nonprofit organization, to hold a Fiesta Day, during the event, more than 75 girls from a local orphanage received more than 35 soccer balls donated by the organization, while also participating in other activities, Aug. 10.
"Kick for Nick" is an organization founded in honor of U.S. Army Private Nick Madaras," said U.S. Army Lt. Col. Laura Coppula, MEDEL's pharmacist. "While on his first tour of duty in Iraq, Nick saw how much the Iraqi children loved soccer, but never had soccer balls to play with. In 2006, the Private gathered a number of soccer balls to give to the underprivileged children near his post in Iraq. Unfortunately, Nick was killed and was never able to distribute the balls himself.
Shortly after his death, the organization "Kick for Nick" was set up in his honor to fulfill his dream. Now, soccer balls are donated to underprivileged children all around the world to include Honduras."
During Fiesta Day, as the young girls from the Honduran orphanage were seen laughing and kicking the donated balls across the soccer field towards JTF-Bravo's service members, the lively day also held somber memories for the Joint Task Force Commander, Col. Thomas D. Boccardi, as Private Madras was one of his Soldiers killed in Iraq.
"There are two ways I remember Nick. The day we lost him and the day I met his family," said Boccardi. "One dark night in Baqubah, Iraq, a couple hundred men were gathered awaiting a hero flight to pick-up Nick and carry him home. We all stood silently in formation just off the helipad as a silent homage to our brother."
Being a war zone, the aircraft landed using night vision goggles and all internal and external lights were turned off.
"There was this sense of unity, brotherhood - we shared grief, shared sacrifice, we belonged to something bigger than ourselves - a calling," said Boccardi. "When the aircraft finally arrived, I could see nothing, all I could hear and feel was the aircraft cutting the air, and then I saw one small tail-light beacon fading away as it left."
"Then there is the day I met the Madaras family," Boccardi added. "They were the most special people I had ever met. Not just by their personal sacrifice, but by their living example of charity. Not only do they honor Nick, they honor community. They ensure no solider, no child goes unloved. Maybe it's through Nick's spirit, but I do know that Nick's parents, Bill and Shalini Madaras, are the best examples of goodwill and compassion. I wish I could be more like them!"
"Kick for Nick" fulfilled Private Madaras' dream by collecting the soccer balls and distributing them to JTF-Bravo for its Fiesta Day. The soccer balls were donated from all over the U.S. from individuals, corporations and universities. For example, professional soccer player Kristine Lilly, a two-time Olympic soccer gold medalist, silver medalist and Olympic Hall of Famer, donated 17. The U.S. Soccer Federation and the High Point University (N.C.) men's soccer team also contributed to the noble cause.
"I volunteered for this cause to give back to the community, to hopefully be a role model to these young girls and inspire them to be anything their hearts desire," said U.S. Army Sgt. Courtney Kreft, MEDEL's veterinary animal care noncommissioned-officer-in-charge. "The 78 girls and 12 orphanage staff, plus an additional 61 volunteers came together to participate in Fiesta Day to provide a great time for the girls, I'm not sure who had more fun, the children or the volunteers."
JTF-Bravo service members regularly participate in numerous community engagements within Honduras; providing support to orphanages and local villages. JTF-Bravo personnel have supported more than a thousand children at seven different orphanages in Honduras since the early 90's, spending time interacting with the children, donating much-needed supplies, and doing construction work on the buildings in which the kids live.