Air Force Maj. Tobin Griffeth and Air Force Capt. Katie Illingworth
Officers Aiding the Afghan People
Reaching out to the people of Afghanistan is one of the hardest parts of the war effort. It is not easy to get Americans, with all their challenges at home, to focus their concern on people who are half a world away. But two Air Force officers have found an unusual method--turning the football rivalry between their two universities into something much bigger: a battle for the hearts and minds of Afghans.
Major Tobin Griffeth and Capt. Katie Illingworth, two Air Force officers serving at Bagram Air Force Base in Afghanistan, are nominated as Beliefnet's Most Inspiring People of the Year for turning the Battle of the Red River--the University of Texas Longhorns vs. the University of Oklahoma Sooners, into Operation Red River Cares, a charity drive for warm clothes, shoes, and school supplies for suffering Afghans.
"We started this because it's the right thing to do," said Griffeth, a graduate of the University of Texas, Arlington. "In a war where we'll spend millions on bombs or missiles, it only makes sense to spend money on clothes, or socks."
"I’m a diehard Sooner fan, and our rivalry with Texas generates a lot of energy," said Katie Illingworth, an Oklahoma alumna. "We thought it would be great to direct that energy to helping people here."
The officers came up with the idea when military chaplains expressed a need for basic supplies among local Afghans. When family members asked how they could help, the two officers, who are both lawyers, took what had been a teasing game between them to another level. They decided that each school would be assigned a "point" for each box of donations that came from its fans and supporters. So far Texas is ahead, but Illingworth swears more OU boxes are on the way.
The contest ends Dec. 3, but the officers would like to see other college rivalries join in 2010--perhaps Alabama v. Auburn and, of course, Army v. Navy.
"This is a way we can help better the lives of the Afghan people," Illingworth said. "I think this project can be far-reaching and have great results."