Soccer brings U.S. troops, Iraqis together

5 May 2003 | Army Spc. Kirk Stefanski

The Al Sokur youth group doesn't care about politics. They never witness discussions about the future of their nation. They don't care what comes next, as long as it's better than what was. They do care, and now know, that things are looking up.

In the sand of the Abu Ubaida soccer field, Army and Marine Corps forces are proving people can improve their lives, if they are given the chance, and that sports has the power to bring people together.

To foster good will and help return the people's lives to pre-war activities, a soccer match was set up between Marines of the First Service Support Group and local players in Diwaniya. In a joint operation with the First Marine Expeditionary Force, the Army's 358th Civil Affairs Brigade acquired 500 new soccer balls for children throughout Iraq, 200 of which went to Diwaniya.

Coordination for this event fell into the hands of 1st Lt. Alicia Galvany, of the 358th's Government team. "It ended up being one of the most meaningful missions I've undertaken during this deployment", she said. Galvany's project got help from 1FSSG Lt.Col. Valerie Thomas, who helped  make the mission a success by getting the balls to the children.

When they arrived at the soccer field, there was only a small group of children. Amena Taye, the translator working with the 358th, said the group was called "Al Sokur," which she said was the name of a "big bird that eats chickens."

As game time approached, children gathered, local merchants arrived to sell their wares, and the Marines and soldiers staked out their seats.

With spectators waiting, as the players readied themselves, a voice on a loudspeaker announced the day's events.  Brigadier General James T. Usher, 1st FSSG Commanding General, then distributed the balls to the children.

In English, then Arabic, the announcer, in the stands overlooking the field, announced the start of the game.  Those attending clapped, yelled, and whistled.

The kids were exited at seeing the US forces. Everywhere, there were young faces and calls of "Mister, Mister!" as they sought out attention.  Whenever a side scored a goal, unanimous cheers erupted from the crowds sitting watch. 

The soldiers left before the end of the game, their mission being complete. They walked back to their vehicles and rolled away.

Col. Robert Stall, the 358th Commander, expressed his satisfaction at seeing the tangible results of his unit's endeavors. "It's one of those things that keeps me coming back...and keeps me in the military".