The children in Iraq were playing stickball with a roll of tape when Navy Corpsman Brian “Doc” Mullins, 20, of Mooresville saw them.
Can you mail me my glove and some baseballs? Mullins asked his dad, Rick.
When Rick Mullins mentioned the conversation to friend Al Dellinger, Dellinger whipped up a plan.
He called Rawlings Sporting Goods in St. Louis and the Marine command at Camp Lejeune.
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The result: Marines in Iraq will soon have enough youth baseballs, bats and gloves to field two baseball teams of Iraqi children.
Dellinger on Friday delivered boxes containing 48 youth baseballs, 16 youth baseball gloves, one catcher's mitt and three different-sized baseball bats to Marine Corps League officials in Greensboro. The league will ship the boxes to a Marine battalion in Iraq that knows they're coming and is set to arrange the teams of children.
“My hat's off to him,” Steve Winsett of the Marine Corps League Department North Carolina said of Dellinger.
Dellinger, 47, works for US Airways at its local operations center at Charlotte/Douglas International Airport. He and wife, Sally, have daughters ages 20, 16 and 14.
His dad, the late Al Sr., fought in World War II and received a military funeral.
“Maybe that's part of it,” Dellinger told me over lunch last week. “He sacrificed. I didn't have to. I want to make up the difference.”
Getting the baseball equipment to the Marines in Iraq is just one small way, he said.
“It's for the kids and for the Marines,” Dellinger said. “Sports is a level playing field.”
Dellinger credits Norman Paytes, the local Rawlings representative, with securing the equipment. He credits Marines at Camp Lejeune with working out the logistics of the shipment over the past two months.
He said he intended to put a jar in Pat's Gourmet Coffee Shop in downtown Mooresville to collect donations to cover the cost of shipping when the shop's owner, Vietnam War veteran Richard Warren, suggested he contact the Marine Corps League. “They'll take care of it for free,” Warren told him.
“We're going to add some safety gear” to the shipment, including batting helmets, Winsett said.
Winsett said it's the obligation of all of us to support the troops, since they're supporting us. Many are requesting second tours, he said. Mullins exemplifies that selflessness through his concern for the children of Iraq, Winsett said. “He's not thinking of covering his back,” Winsett said. “He's thinking of the kids. Lots of them are orphans.”
Dellinger enclosed a letter with the equipment. He wrote it to the Marines captain who's expecting the donations. “It is my sincere hope that it can be used to foster good relations with the youth of Iraq and at the same time give your Marines a recreational outlet that will bring a small piece of home to them,” Dellinger wrote. “Our thoughts and prayers are with you and all our military abroad. Your hard work and sacrifice do not go unnoticed.”