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    September 25, 2021 Blackstone, Va. RSS |

    Liberty University Club Sports Assistant Athletic Director for Spiritual Development Reese Braband accompanied 24 members of the Flames’ men’s volleyball team on a trip to the Army National Guard base at Fort Pickett in Blackstone, Va., on Thursday to play volleyball with many of the 6,000 Afghanistan people who have found refuge there after the Taliban seized control of their country last month.

    The experience was part of an outreach coordinated by LU Serve Now through Liberty’s Office of Spiritual Development to assist with the Department of Defense’s Operation Allies Welcome and Operation Allies Refuge facilitated by the U.S. Army National Guard and Marine Corps.

    “It was incredible,” Braband said. “Our men’s volleyball team went to do a service project and play volleyball with the Afghan guests that were staying there at the base. The purpose was to have fun and give them something to do as they have come out of a traumatic experience and don’t know how long they’re going to be there. They were all asking when we would be coming back.”

    He said the team came back encouraged that they could use the sport of volleyball for a greater purpose, to provide hope.

    “We went there wanting to give them a fun outlet to play some sports and we were able to go and be a light to these people, to love on them,” Braband said. “It was so cool to be able encourage other people and bring joy into their lives. There was definitely a language barrier, though enough of them had learned some English. But the universal language of sport is one that everybody can understand.”

    After an afternoon briefing to set some ground rules, the Flames divided into two groups of 12 — headed by senior team leaders Tommy Speelman and Lucas Marine — and set up courts and games on two different compounds with close to 1,500 people gathered at both locations.

    Braband said the players’ caring and fun-loving personalities came out in a powerful way throughout the spirited recess that lasted from 4:30-7:30 p.m.

    “Our volleyball guys just crushed it by sharing smiles and giving high-fives and fist bumps and encouragements, making it a fun day,” he said. “They made sure everybody who wanted to play could play. There were a lot of adults who played in the actual games with the nets we had set up, and off to the side, kids were bumping and passing in a circle.”

    Marine gives a fist bump to an Afghan guest Thursday. (Photo courtesy Cpl. Eric Ramirez, U.S. Marine Corps)

    Braband estimated that a couple hundred people actually participated in the two stations, with both youth and adults rotating through the courts. Others played soccer with members of the Charlotte Eagles, which Club Sports Ministry Director Brian Davidson, who formerly worked with that organization, arranged to bring in. Additionally, Liberty’s women’s soccer coaches put on clinics Thursday and its men’s soccer coaches are offering more on Friday at the base.

    “The military police loved it, seeing the kids running around on the base playing soccer,” Braband said. “The volleyball was geared more toward the adults. We all wanted to show a lot of love and joy and to provide entertainment even in a tough situation.”

    He said there is a possibility that members of Liberty’s Club Sports women’s beach volleyball team may be able to travel on a future trip back to Fort Pickett, where the numbers of Afghan people on base are expected to rise to 10,000 in the next two weeks.

    “We are sure hoping that there are more opportunities for Club Sports teams to go and serve,” Liberty Club Sports Athletic Director Kirk Handy said. “That would be awesome.”

    Braband said it was a great team bonding event for the men’s volleyball players who came away with a greater overall appreciation and contentment for how fortunate they are to live in the United States and to attend Liberty after seeing others who have lost everything and been taken away from their homeland.


    By Ted Allen/Staff Writer