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Marines score with soccer match in Iraq

7 Apr 2004 | Cpl. Paula M. Fitzgerald

Marines from 3rd Battalion, 11th Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division spent a little time "kicking it" with citizens from this small Iraqi community April 6.

Nearly 50 artillerymen of Battery I played soccer until the sun went down, but winning the game wasn't the goal at the end of the day, according to 2nd Lt. Robert L. Nofsinger, the battalion civil affairs officer.

Battery I Marines operate from Camp Mudaysis, a one-hour drive from the city, located slightly north of the Saudi Arabian border.

During the visit, they also distributed 30 boxes of medical supplies and sporting goods donated by Spirit of America, a Los Angeles-based charity.

"Since the Marines are like the new kids on the block in Iraq, we wanted to get out there and meet the people," Nofsinger, of Overland Park, Kan., said. "A game of soccer just seemed like the best way to do that."

During the invasion of Iraq last year, Nukhayb was demolished and the 10,000 Iraqis living here had little hope of recuperating, explained Mayor Thamir Mayflal Hatham.

"After the war ended many of our buildings were ransacked and looted," Hatham explained. "The people had to start from the zero level. We rebuilt our schools, hospitals, police stations and government offices."

The mayor said the people of his city had a great deal of support from other countries, including America.

"The Coalition came here from the very start and showed us a lot of help and that they really did care about the Iraqis," Hatham said.

The Marines from 3rd Battalion, 11th Marines are looking to keep the friendly relationship with the people here strong.

"We want to make sure that the Iraqis know that we are not just a uniform," Nofsinger said. "We want them to know that Marines are not some strange, mythical creatures, but we are people who want to help them any way we can."

Cpl. Jan Pieter Vandenhof, trained Arabic linguist, said he was excited to get the chance to interact with the people here and looks forward to visiting again in the future.

"I took a basic Arabic language course before coming out here," Vandenhof, from Novato, Calif., said. "I had a great time being able to talk to the people because they were shocked when I was able to communicate with them."

Ali Tayish, a 19-year-old resident here, said the feeling was mutual.

"It's just fun getting to have the Americans here because it's all about building a friendship," Tayish explained. "We're all brothers. We'd play soccer with them everyday if we could."

Neither the Iraqis nor the Americans took the soccer game too seriously but both groups put forth quite an effort.

Tayish and Sanad Chellab, the captain of the Iraqi players, agreed that the Marines played a good game of soccer but still had room for improvement.

"The Americans did a good job," Chellab said. "But maybe they didn't play their best because they're not used to the rocky ground here. We'd be happy to give them some lessons."