PORT-AU-PRINCE, HAITI -- A friendly but competitive game of hoops between Combined Joint Task Force - Haiti personnel and members of the local community was played here May 16 to bridge the gap between the Multinational Interim Force – Haiti and the Haitian populace.
The basketball game, ending in a 54 to 37 victory for the CJTF, was intended to do a lot more than determine which team was better, or who had the best jump shot.
“This was a way for us to let our hair down and let the community know we are not just a gun-toting force. We are human beings just like they are, and we can have a good time,” said Col. Mario LaPaix, special advisor to CJTF-Haiti’s commander.
The 13-man CJTF team's success in trumping the local Haitian team was not necessarily because of their talent as much as their experience and organization, according to LaPaix.
“The Haitians had a talented team, but basketball is an American sport and a lot of the guys on our team have played organized basketball before. So we had an edge,” LaPaix explained.
The basketball game was not the first time the task force has put together a sports team to go head-to-head with members of the community. Having been defeated in a soccer match a few weeks prior, the CJTF personnel wanted an opportunity to show the local community an American sport.
“Our sports are baseball and basketball,” LaPaix said. “We wanted to introduce them to one of our sports.”
The task force wasn’t exactly stacking the deck when they put together a team to face off with the community’s ballers, according to LaPaix.
“Nothing special was done,” he explained. “We just put the word out that we were going to play the community and those that volunteered got to play. We had some good players and some not-so-good players.”
The game, played on a cement court just a few hundred meters from the CJTF compound's front gate, attracted approximately 2,000 spectators from the local community, who came to show their support and satisfy their curiosity.
“The fact that we had so many people show up says a lot about the community,” LaPaix said. “It shows how much they respect us and that they want to be a part of what we do and how we do it,” he continued.
Although the community’s involvement may not be outwardly apparent to an outsider, the surrounding community role in the security of the MIFH forces is very clear to LaPaix, who is a Haitian-American himself.
“The community as a whole has been extremely responsive to us. They have provided our external security,” LaPaix said, citing a recent problem with thieves stealing the barbed wire from the outskirts of the compound before community members helped the MIFH forces apprehend the criminals.
“It just goes to show that the community is watching out for us, and they take our force protection to heart,” he said.
The game, which was organized to reach out to the local community, has had far reaching effects, according to LaPaix.
“The game definitely accomplished the mission, which was to reach out to the people. They are talking about the game all throughout Haiti, and that is significant because we have a marriage with the community.”