Horseshoes for Our Soldiers

By Bob White, Sr.    White Distributors

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When I was asked to write the story behind donating horseshoes to Captain James Zopelis of the Army's 7th Air Defense stationed in the Middle East it was still before the war in Iraq was under way. Now that I am writing this for the Horseshoe Pitching Newsline, the war is about ten days old. Many fine people have died and it looks like many more will die in the weeks to come. Boredom was the biggest problem for our soldiers a few weeks ago when they decided to track down some horseshoes to pass the idle time and now it is survival. Perhaps by the time you all read this, the soldiers will have achieved their objective and will be back to pitching horseshoes, leaving the diplomats to sort out the fine details.

When Captain Zopelis sent an email to us asking if I knew of any organizations that might donate some horseshoes to his 5th Battalion I was of the mind that there would not really be a war. I felt it would be a show of strength and that it would be enough to accomplish the goal of disarming Iraq without actually having to go in with the forces. I thought about the idea of the soldiers pitching horseshoes to pass the time while the politicians made their deals. I thought about the irony that the very first horseshoe pitchers were probably Roman soldiers trying to fill the time during pauses in the Crusades.

I have learned in the past that when someone asks for help to solve a problem, it is best to respond quickly or you may lose the opportunity to help altogether. Things change fast and time is always of the essence. So I emailed back that I would send him a few sets of horseshoes. He was very happy about that and told me that they were all very bored and morale was becoming a problem. Just by telling the troops that horseshoes were on the way picked up morale as they picked partners and looked forward to some fun competition.

He sent me a military address to send to and I prepared two complete sets of Mustangs and two sets of stakes to send. I chose Mustangs because President Bush ordered Mustangs to pitch with at the White House just after taking office and restoring the horseshoe court that President Clinton had removed from the grounds. I felt that the soldiers certainly deserved the same quality horseshoes as the President. When I went to the Post Office to send the packages to their base, I found that I could not send to the address he gave me because it's status had changed to be a "restricted" military base that could not receive mail more than one ounce in weight- an indication that they might be right in the thick of things.

This delay led to more emails. He did some research and then sent me an address in Germany to send it to. He said that he would have them hand carried the rest of the way by soldiers that were soon to be enroute to the front lines-These horseshoes were obviously important to them-Imagine that! This was the first indication of where he was located. The emails became more and more friendly and personal. He would tell us some of the names of soldiers in his Battery and the ones that were interested in the competition. Just as in any horseshoe tournament there were people of every rank and station that were interested in pitching. Even the Lt. Colonel (their base commander) was planning on pitching. This all took place around the beginning of February 2003. There was a time of silence for a week to ten days after I sent the shoes to the address in Germany. During that time, things went back to normal and I pretty much forgot about it.

I was so surprised to receive an e-mail from Captain Zopelis that the shoes had arrived and that they were planning a tournament of sorts as soon as the weather broke. They were in a sandstorm when the shoes arrived and couldn't use them immediately, so by the time that cleared, they were raring to break them out and throw some shoes. I asked him to send me a photo of his soldiers pitching horseshoes if he could. I thought it might be a cute promotion for our horseshoe company sometime later on, or even something the NHPA might enjoy seeing. When Captain Zopelis sent me back the pictures and all the tournament details I was completely surprised and thrilled. It was far more than I ever expected. It really did seem to give them all a big boost and I was very proud and humbled to have been able to participate in some small way to help them. I forwarded the emails to Paul Stewart and he had Steve Summerlin put them up on the NHPA website. They all thought it was a great story and so did I. I believe it inspired many others to send horseshoes over to their sons and daughters and friends who were also sitting and waiting during all the tense times prior to the pending war. What I don't know is if the other shipments arrived in time to be useful to them. I hope they did and if not, I truly hope that they will soon be bored again and have plenty of time and inclination to pitch horseshoes. After I saw how they had organized a complete tournament and how many people were interested I sent another email back offering him more sets if he needed them. That was about two days before the war started. I never got a response to that email. He had been responding within six or eight hours to most of my emails. I knew something was up.

Even though I have never met Captain Zopelis or any of the soldiers that were in that very special horseshoe tournament I feel I have become close to them. It is amazing how that happens in the world of horseshoes. Friends are made from all over the world with our common interests of pitching horseshoes. Now I am glued to the television watching all the news on the war. I am always mindful of the names of the different divisions that are noted on the news. I am watching for news of the Alpha Battery, 5th Battalion, 7th Air Defense Artillery. I am truly hoping that I don't see any news of them on national television. They had better not mess with our horseshoe pitching Battalion!

As a side note to this story, we received a call from Don "Fuzzy" Hittle, who's wife has a son in Afghanistan, that resulted in horseshoes being sent there. When he received them he made it a point to call back home to thank his family for being so thoughtful. He said it was the perfect thing for them and it was a big hit with the people in his troop. Mrs. Hittle called us to tell us how happy she was to be able to do something for her son during these tough times. Don also said that his unit in Kanduhar is expected to soon be rotated into the combat in Iraq, so the horseshoes are really getting around over there.

We have also learned that Casey Sluys is working on an offer to the troops to make them honorary NHPA members and sanction their tournaments in Iraq. Another great idea to show our support. It is so good to see the heart of this great horseshoe pitching family known as the NHPA. The NHPF may be able to become involved in spreading the goodwill of horseshoe pitching throughout the Military by helping to fund some of the expense for families to send horseshoes to their loved ones who are serving us so gallantly.

Horseshoes and Soldiers, seems like a natural to me.

-----Original Message----- From: ABTRY5-7
Sent: Saturday, March 01, 2003 4:59 AM
To: 'White Distributors'
Subject: The shoes are here, and they are great!

Mr. White,

The shoes arrived this week, and they are a wonderful addition to our base camp. Unfortunately, we have had a spell of horrible weather, and it looks like today is the first day we will be able to use them. I will be sure to send pictures as soon as we get out to our pit. You have made a huge improvement to our morale, and we appreciate your generosity. I am proud to know that there are wonderful organizations out there who support our troops over here. Enclosed is a picture of me with my boss, LTC Smith, and our senior technical Warrant Officer, CW3 Bennet. Thank you again.

Very Respectfully,
Jim Zopelis

James E. Zopelis
Captain, United States Army
Commanding Officer

-----Original Message-----
From: White Distributors ]
Sent: Monday, March 03, 2003 5:53 PM
To: ABTRY5-7
Subject: RE: The shoes are here, and they are great!

Hi Jim,

Thanks for the nice note and picture. If you can send us a picture of the men pitching horseshoes I will send it into our National Horseshoe Pitching Magazine with a little story about the troops pitching horseshoes while waiting for orders in the Middle East. It makes a great story especially now that tension is so high.

Bob White

Sent: Saturday, March 08, 2003 8:33 AM
To: 'White Distributors'
Subject: RE: The shoes are here, and they are great!
Importance: High

Mr. White,
We just completed our first tournament. We had nine teams enter, including the battalion commander Lieutenant Colonel Forrest Smith, and our Operations Officer, Major Clem Coward. They posted the most exiting win of the day over Staff Sergeant Cook and Specialist Sutton. MAJ Coward threw a ringer to win 21-18. Specialist Jeffrey Botts and Specialist Benjamin Kaiser outclassed the field with a 21-5 drubbing of another great team in the final match, Corporal Michael Rowley and Specialist Darrel Ertel. Both teams were from my unit, Alpha Battery, 5th Battalion, 7th Air Defense Artillery. Enclosed are some pictures, and how the brackets played out. You have made this base camp a lot better with your contribution. On behalf of the commander, LTC Smith, I thank you again for your support of our troops.

Very Respectfully,

James E. Zopelis
Captain, United States Army
Commanding Officer