CAMP HANSON, Afghanistan --
The sound of drums echoed through a nearby bazaar as the tournament began. Locals began moving toward the noise, and a line of cars steadily grew in proportion to the growing commotion.
“You wouldn’t have seen anything like this a year ago,” said local farmer, Hanif Marwah-Hassad. “Playing soccer in Marjah, celebrating Eid with everyone together like this -- it’s very good.”
On Nov. 20, the final day of Eid al-Hada, locals gathered outside Camp Hanson, Helmand province, Afghanistan, to participate in a celebratory soccer tournament. The crowd enjoyed live music and fresh fruit and gifts, such as soccer balls and sports jerseys.
For three days, Muslims worldwide celebrated this Muslim holiday known as the Festival of Sacrifice. Capt. Jason N. Deane, the officer in charge of non-kinetic operations for 2/9, said his unit worked hard to make sure everyone here was able to observe the holiday.
“We wanted to host an event where we could get local nationals, [International Security Assistance Force], [Afghan National Army] and ... everybody together and celebrate,” said Deane. “We talked it over with local national leaders and they all agreed the event was a good idea. So we invited them here for the soccer tournament. They brought drummers and live music. It was great.”
The festival bears some similarities to Thanksgiving. One of the biggest Eid traditions is sacrificing animals for a feast. Families usually spend the entire day preparing the feast and inviting friends and relatives over to enjoy the fruits of their labor.
This year, the Marines pitched in as well.
“We put together humanitarian aid packages for local nationals, which included livestock, rice, cakes and things of that nature, to make sure the less fortunate were able to celebrate the holiday,” said Deane. “They were very appreciative.“
“It’s an indicator of the way things are going and the way things will continue to progress,” said Deane. “You’re starting to see milestones along the way that indicate Marjah is a safer place. The Taliban has less control and local nationals are starting to do things for themselves. They’re willingly and overtly coming out with the ANA and Marines, celebrating Eid and having a good time without fear of retribution.”
At the half-time of each soccer match, live musicians performed at center field. Local nationals took advantage of the opportunity and rushed the sports ground, turning it into a dance floor. The crowd erupted with whistles, cheers and clapping as the locals tried to outdo each other with Afghan dance moves.
The tournament ended in good spirits and typical Marine fashion with the Marines overcoming the interpreters in the final round of the soccer tournament.
Lance Cpl. Robert J. Anderson, a data technician with 2/9, joked about his team’s performance.
“Our strategies were to play hard, pass the ball, and pass the ball some more,” laughed Anderson. “You know, we got to get it down field. Basically hustle, work as a team, and play to win.”
As the Marines headed back to base, the locals moved to the bazaar and continued celebrating into the night.
“Even if it was just for a couple hours out there, you forgot that you were going to have to patrol, and you’re not in the day-to-day grind of conducting operations, but just out having fun with the locals,” said Deane. “It’s one of those opportunities where it’s not Afghan or American; it’s just a bunch of people out having a good time.”