Cheers, music and fun filled the famed Shaab stadium during a two-day soccer tournament held, May 22 and 23, in eastern Baghdad’s Rusafa District.
The tournament symbolizes the success of a month-long effort between FC Unity, a London-based organization, and U.S. and Iraqi officials to provide the people of Iraq a platform for development and education through a series of soccer programs.
As a sense of normalcy continues to fill the Iraqi capital, Paratroopers of the 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division, Multi-National Divisionâ€”Baghdad and Iraqi security forces, wanted to demonstrate the improved security is here to stay.
“It is a normality of life that we can all come out here and play, Americans and Iraqis together and also Iraqis of different backgrounds regardless of their religious, ethnic and social backgrounds can come together and play football,” said Yamam Nabeel, chief executive of FC Unity. “If people around the world can see how the U.S. military interacts with the Iraqi people, it shows a different picture to the world that the U.S. Army is here to help the Iraqis build a strong and viable society.”
“We are here to bring smiles to the faces of the young people,” he added. The tournament, which was open to the public, consisted of 32 community games and four games combining American Soldiers and Iraqis security forces.
Prior to the opening ceremony, Paratroopers handed out soccer jerseys and other equipment to many of the children who participated in the event.
“We want to give the Iraqi people its culture back and a big part of that culture is sports, and in Iraq, sports means soccer,” said Lt. Col. Michael Shinners in a television interview via satellite to the United States. Shinners, of Arlington, Va., serves as the deputy commander of the 3rd BCT, 82nd Abn. Div., based out of Fort Bragg, N.C.
For American Paratroopers participating in the event, playing soccer in a combat zone is something they could have never envisioned when they first deployed to Baghdad in late-2008.
“This is a huge step in what we are doing here,” said Spc. John MacMurray, an intelligence specialist assigned to Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 3rd BCT, 82nd Abn. Div. “This event has really helped us earn the trust of the Iraqi citizens.”
During halftime, MacMurray took a break from the action and reenlisted in the middle of the field for an additional four years of military service. The Minerva, Ohio native, said the experience of reenlisted in front of so many people is something he will always treasure.
The spirit of the weekend will live on in the minds of all who participated for years to come.
“We had a lot of fun this weekend, and we built great friendships with the American Soldiers,” said one national police officer. “That was the point of this weekend, to have fun and have a great time.”
Story by Sgt. 1st Class Alex Licea