KARADJE, Niger — Villagers scurried around smiling ear-to-ear, in July, when 14 Airmen handed out soccer balls and 1,000 pounds of rice here.
The 787th Air Expeditionary Squadron, based out of Ramstein, Germany, is composed of a six-person team from the 24th Intelligence Squadron and an eight-person team from the 1st Combat Communications Squadron. The squadron is deployed to Niger for an Eagle Vision mission. The focus of the deployment is to collect satellite imagery with commercial satellites for map-making purposes.
"Whenever we deploy on Eagle Vision missions, we help out host nations," said Air Force Capt. Ben Powell, squadron commander.
The squadron, which deployed to Niger July 1, 2006, collected 30 donated soccer balls to pass out to the village children.
"Usually the kids [in Niger] kick around a balled-up shirt, or anything that rolls," he said. "When we started handing out soccer balls, they all wanted to touch them. They ran off with huge smiles."
The Airmen also handed out 1,000 pounds of rice to Karadje villagers.
"We heard the largest need in the village was food, so we donated money out of our pockets and bought rice," said Air Force First Lt. Ken Malloy, 1st CBCS deployed commander.
Each family in the village filled their bowl with a serving of rice, which feeds a family of four for one week, he said.
"They were ecstatic," said Malloy. "It was great to give back to people that needed it the most."
Niger is one of the poorest countries in the world and was ranked last on the United Nations Development Fund index of human development, according to CIA reports. The land-locked Sub-Saharan nation, whose economy relies on subsistence crops and livestock, is populated with several struggling villages like Karadje.
The terrain and weather is not only difficult to African villagers. The 787th AES team members are highly-trained Airmen who deploy to bare base locations, such as Niger, and "set up camp." However, the team was surprised to confront one of the most difficult deployed locations they could recall, said Powell. Daily sand and electrical storms make operating technical equipment a challenge. Nevertheless, the team continues to successfully carry out their mission despite 100 degree days and no running water available to them at their camp, he said.
"I am so proud of our deployed team," said Air Force Lt. Col. Joe Sublousky, 1st CBCS commander. "They excel at what they have been trained to do and are doing it under the most challenging of circumstances. Helping out those less fortunate is something every squadron member would do and these deployed personnel are representing us in a great way. They are ambassadors not only for the U.S. Air Force, but for the human race."