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Behind (Battle) Scenes

Rick Nidel tells the story behind humanitarian work in war-ridden lands.

On days like today and Memorial Day, we hear a lot about people who have sacrificed – some giving up their lives – for the safety and freedom of America.

But there are also those who work behind the battle lines driving home the message that liberty is a right that all should have.

Rick Nidel is one of those people.

His work around the world with a major international NGO – Nidel declined to name it for personal reasons – first took him to Vladivostok, Russia. He worked later in Bosnia during the area's civil war from 1992 to 1995. He has also worked in Ghana, Iraq and Nigeria.

Although some of his work was in administration and finance, a big portion of his time was spent making inroads into communities where military bases are going to be built.

"[My work was to] make sure that people in communities aren't hostile when a base comes in," he said.

It's a good thing he speaks seven languages.

Some of his humanitarian work included supplying locals with food and water and medical attention.

"If there are troops coming in, we want to make sure the people there are happy and healthy," he said.

Nidel, 40, said his Roman Catholic faith is what underscores his desire to help people.

"You always have opportunity in those places to help people who are really in trouble," he said. "You just say, 'God, what can I do for them?'"

Although he didn't work in direct combat, Nidel said that seeing the poverty around the world has helped him be more aware of what's happening in his own neighborhood in Lanham.

"Essentially, you come back and you're pissed off because of the inequity of things that you see," he said. "It makes you more in tune with inequity in your own town."

While working in Iraq, Nidel got to know some Iraqi children and built them a soccer field. He removed a house that had essentially been demolished and resurfaced the area. Then he bought socks, nets, balls, shin guards and had two goals welded to set up the field.

The kids weren't allowed inside the compound where Nidel worked and the field was located. So he made the kids ID cards so they could come in.

And the father of two coached them, with three Kurdish phrases and a whistle.

"I saw my kids in every one of those [kids]," he said.

"I know that those kids will always say, 'Where's Mr. Rick?'" he said, adding that he will always wonder what happened to them.

The Pittsburgh native, who just returned to the United States in August, plans next to travel to Afghanistan to work.

He remembers Father Berislav, a Bosnian priest who lived in the mountains and served the Muslims who lived below him.

Berislav, whose church was not in the path of enemy fire, would travel to a nearby village after it had been heavily shelled.

The priest would stay with the villagers to calm them and help prevent future enemy attacks.

"My motivation for all I've done is to be as kind and compassionate to people as I can," he said.

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