Letter from California

An archive of the weekly "Letter from Calfornia", written by Jim McCarthy.

Monday, April 26, 2004

Letter from California-April 27, 2004

California. What a source of material! After almost a year of writing about California every single week, I’ve never been short of a topic. I can always count on something worth writing about: either someone in the State Assembly is trying to pass a law banning ketchup or a millionaire Hollywood star has decided to go and live among the Eskimos so he can convince them they shouldn’t eat seal meat anymore.
Yes, there are plenty of crazy ideas here, and some of them make Californians seem a little foolish. That’s ok. We can take it. On the other hand, when I come across the kind of crazy idea that makes Californians look good, I love to write about that too. I’m going to explain one of these to you and then issue a challenge that I hope you’ll accept.
Would you believe that you can save the world with 50 Frisbees? There’s a man in Los Angeles named Jim Hake. He found out that some of the Marines in Afghanistan and Iraq had some ideas for things they would like to do for the local people. The problem was that these Marines didn’t have the funding to do all this great stuff, and that gave Hake an idea. What if he could raise the money to buy the stuff so that the Marines could actually do all these great projects? Would people be interested in helping?
He started Spirit of America. When different units from the Marines or the other branches have an idea for doing something to help improve the lives of the people where they are serving in Afghanistan and Iraq, those units create a “request.” This request explains in detail exactly what they need and then challenges people to donate or buy those items. For example, one of the first Spirit projects was the construction of a baseball field in the Afghanistani village of Orgun-E. As the Spirit of America website says, “No one told the Special Forces soldiers” to build the field. They just saw the need and did it. Why baseball? It’s a game that doesn’t need much equipment and provided a way for the locals to get together with the Marines for a good time. Under the Taliban, sports specifically and fun generally was against the law, so getting a chance to spend a day tossing the old bean around the ballpark is like a Florida vacation to an Afghani. As Sergeant 1st Class Jay Smith said, “The things we did for the people in Orgun-E literally saved lives. Theirs and ours.” The local minister of education called baseball “a gift from the United States.” Local boy Nazim says it even better: “I like to be a player, not a fighter.” Take that, Bin Laden.
Whether you supported the Iraq war or not, everybody wants peace and stability there now. Marines stationed in Iraq are finding ways to improve lives and build bridges there too. Tune into cable news anytime and you can hear about the high unemployment and misery of Iraqis now that Hussein’s evil government is gone, so the Marines (and the SeaBees or military engineers) are training Iraqi men as plumbers, carpenters and electricians with the help of Spirit. Marines and others are building and improving schools, adding the little extras that make a difference like toys, and yes, Frisbees. If the Marines say Frisbees help them make friends with Iraqis, I’m going to reach into my pocket and buy them some Frisbees. I bought 50 myself.
Jim Hake says that shortly after 9/11, he realized that in addition to defeating our enemies, we were also going to have to build some bridges. He fronted the money to get the organization started and has asked people all over the country to take it from there. An entrepreneur in the high-tech business, Hake has nothing to gain from the effort except a sense that in this battle against the people who want to destroy us, America really is trying to make a better world.
You hear people say “Support our Troops” a lot, but sometimes I think people don’t quite know how to do that. It’s nice to hang a red white and blue ribbon from your car antenna, but if you want to support our troops and make a better world, I can’t think of a better way to do it than through Spirit of America.
So here’s my challenge to the people of Sumter. There are two Air Force chaplains in the “Sunni Triangle” village of Kirkuk, Iraq who are working hard to improve the lives of orphans and school kids. Gary Garvey and Lonnie Baker say that, “It’s not yet safe for non-military humanitarian organizations to operate in Iraq…If we don’t, who will?”
For $520, Garvey and Baker can outfit an entire classroom with writing paper, construction paper, pencils, markers and the rest. I challenge the people of Sumter to come together over the next week with enough to supply one classroom. I’ll contact Hake and let you know what you’ve given. Of course, I’ll do my part too.
Our GI’s in Iraq have realized on their own that the people who suffered under Hussein and the Taliban aren’t our enemies. In fact, they are our only hope of lasting peace.
Here’s how to donate to Spirit of America: online at www.spiritofamerica.net; by phone at 1-800-691-2209; by mail, with checks payable to “Spirit of America” with “Kirkuk” in the subject line, sent to 215 So. State Suite 1170, Salt Lake City UT 84111.


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