Kuwaiti desert finds soccer oasis

23 Apr 2003 |

Where can you find a field of beautiful, green grass in the middle of a Kuwaiti desert?  It is found only on the local soccer field, of course.

Soccer, or football as the majority of the world calls it, has a home in almost every nation and Kuwait is no exception.  Even here, in the midst of Operation Southern Watch and Operation Iraqi Freedom, military service members are using soccer as positive recreation and competition. 

During a tournament sponsored by the host Kuwaiti military service here, a Marine from Marine All-Weather Fighter Attack Squadron 533 coached his team past competitors from other American and foreign services.

"It was an awesome achievement to win the tournament," said Lance Cpl. Rolando Paiz, an administrative personnel clerk, VMFA(AW)-533.  "But the real joy in it came from competing with military members from other services and even other nations."

Paiz, who grew up in Nicaragua before relocating to Miami, has been playing the sport since he was 11 years old.  Soccer has had a strong role in his life ever since.

"Many times soccer has kept me out of trouble when I was growing up," Paiz said.  "It is not just a sport that you get involved in. When you play soccer you become part of a community.  I played alongside peers and adults who all pushed me to improve myself physically and mentally."

Soccer, which claims over 70 million participants worldwide and countless more fans, has a more global appeal than many popular American sports.

"Not everyone knows how to play football or baseball," Paiz said.  "But soccer is a global sport."

Paiz did not believe he would have much of a chance to enjoy his sport this season after deploying to Kuwait in January.

"I was talking to an Air Force airman about soccer one day when she mentioned that she knew some people who were playing after work," Paiz said.  "I was immediately interested and I tracked down the coach of one of the teams, an Air Force master sergeant."

Paiz then began attending daily pick-up soccer matches.  Players would congregate around the small field, only a few hundred yards away from the flightline, until there were enough people to get a match started.

"We had fun, plus it was a good break from work and stress out here," Paiz said.
When the Kuwaiti military Morale, Welfare and Recreation office announced a tournament, Paiz quickly looked into putting together a team.  Enlisting the help of two Air Force airmen, along with six other Marines from Marine Aircraft Group 11, Paiz had a team ready to play.

The tournament featured 12 teams in a single-elimination style competition.  Paiz's team easily swept through the early rounds of play with four wins against Air Force competitors.  In the fifth match, the team ran into brick wall against members of the British Royal Air Force.

"The game against the British, it came down to penalty kicks at the end of regulation," Paiz said.  "It was a very difficult match, but a lot of fun.  They played a different style of soccer and it is always more interesting when you are seeing a new type of play for the first time."

While the baking sun fell behind the scrub brushes marking the field boundaries, the sparse crowd cheered and jeered as the Americans rolled to a 3-1 championship victory over the Kuwaiti team.

"It feels real good," Paiz said.  "It is very small compared to what the Marines and other military members are doing out here, but it will be something I will never forget."