“Red Bull Soccer” by Martin Carranza

I will never forget the village of Marjah. It’s where I learned a lesson that I will carry with me everywhere I go. It was a Tuesday morning, and my marines were up before me, making faces of disgust at the veggie omelet in their MRE — the packaged food we used in combat.

PFC Renard, my most squared away boot, approached me. “Morning Corporal. Lieutenant said to make the rounds for the village today, since he is visiting the other FOB’s and will not return until Friday.”

I gave him a thumbs-up and told him we’d be leaving in fifteen minutes. By then the men would be finished with their breakfast. This would be was my first time doing the daily village rounds, since my team was usually in charge of escorting high-ranking officials from Forward Operating Base, –FOB — to FOB. As we entered Marjah, I heard the villagers whispering about our uniforms. I felt their eyes following our every move..While our interpreters asked the questions our Lieutenant left us, I noticed a group of ten small children playing soccer. As I made my way towards them, I realized they were kicking around an empty Red Bull can around. I must have stood there for five minutes watching them. They were completely absorbed in the game and they made me think about what it takes to find the state of happiness they seemed to have found. Here they were, the middle of war-torn Afghanistan, playing soccer with a tin can, barefoot and e smiling, laughing, and enjoying each other’s company. And me? I spent my time hating every minute in the very place these kids called home.. Nothing I could do would make time pass more quickly. For these kids, time was irrelevant.

“Hey Corporal! Terp here says we need to take this guy in for questioning. Waiting on your orders.” My mind had taken in his words, and automatically I gave a thumbs up. But I could not take my eyes off of the kids. One part of me wanted to put down my rifle, take off my uniform, and join them. But the uniform is what allowed me to get close enough to them to witness their intense play. I gripped the buttstock of my rifle and squatted down. From my cargo pocket I took our two packets of Starburst, four Kit-Kats, and a large can of Rip It. I placed these things on the ground and walked away. Soon after, when my team was about to leave the village, PFC Renard gave the signal of caution.

“Corporal we have a group of youngins rushing towards us. Ready to engage at your command.”

“No need for that Renard; watch my six.” Then I started walking towards the kids, giving them hand signals to not run away. They didn’t budge. I moved my rifle to the side, got down on one knee, and was greeted unexpectedly with a hug from the smallest player on their team. In broken English he said, “ Thank you.” Then he ran back to the group.

That boy’s hug humbled me. It was a reminder to cherish the small treasures life has to offer. As my team left Marjah, I waved and smiled at the kids. I tried to signal to them that I would be back to watch them play. I never did come back, but I did learn that other Marines who passed by the soccer team were now leaving small treats, just like I had done.

Martin Carranza served in the Marines for four years as an Administrative Clerk. He enlisted at the age of 17, in 2008, and ended his contract in 2012, at the age of 21. On March 2010, he deployed to Afghanistan for what would be a one-year deployment. When he returned in March 2011, Martin felt like he had changed as person. Most of his writing draws back on the memories he has of this deployment. He is grateful for the opportunities the military has opened up for him. It has forever changed, and humbled him.