AL QA’IM, Iraq --
Children flocked from every corner of the village when the Marines and sailors from Company I of Task Force 3rd Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment, Regimental Combat Team 5, rolled into town.
The kids are always curious as to what Coalition Forces are doing in their quaint village at the T-1 pumping station in Iraq, but this day was different. This day was for them.
Marines began setting up at the village soccer field for a long-day of food and fun dedicated to the children. Nearly 300 children began to fill the bleachers, gossiping to one another as to what was in store.
The field meet kicked off, and cheers and laughter soon echoed through the village. Both boys and girls would participate in events ranging from a soccer challenge to a potato sack race.
“If you were a kid, wouldn’t you just want to have fun while growing up and not worry about stepping on a mine while walking to school or having your school shot up because insurgents are using the rooftop,” said Cpl. Evan Van Nosrand, a vehicle commander with Company I of Task Force 3rd Bn., 2nd Marines. “It’s something we take for granted while growing up back in the states; to actually enjoy growing up.”
The aroma from the barbeques permeated through the cool air as the first event was announced over the loud speaker. Children, broken down into various age groups of boys and girls, raced to the starting line for the 100-meter dash. The immense crowd’s chanting and the possibility of winning a prize were all the children needed to spark friendly competition.
“I’m going to win,” said an excited 8-year old Iraqi boy. “I want to win a prize for my baby sister.”
The event couldn’t have been possible without the local support of the Iraqi Police and the Iraqi Army.
“The underlying purpose of this event was to build relationships between the Iraqi Army and the Iraqi Police and better connect them to the community they serve,” said Capt. T.J. Owens, the commanding officer of Company I. “It’s all a part of setting them up for a successful transition.”
Each Marine was partnered with an Iraqi soldier or policemen while posting security or assisting with the days events.
“It was a fun experience working with (the Iraqi Police and the Iraqi Army),” said Van Nosrand, a native of Smithtown, N.Y. “The one I worked with was very professional.”
The Marines and the Iraqi Security Forces could also be seen side by side flipping burgers or controlling the crowd. Their partnership helped to break down cultural barriers between Coalition Forces and the local populace.
“We have learned from doing tactical partnered operations with our Iraqi Security Force counter parts that such events are vulnerable to being ineffective due to the cultural gap,” Owens said. “Precautions were taken to bridge this gap at every point of friction. It turned out that by doing this, the foundation for success was already set. The (Iraqi Security Force) leadership enjoyed playing with and mentoring the children they protect.”
The children in the stands erupted in cheers as their friends participated in the potato sack race and the soccer challenge. The impact of the event was evident in the cheerful faces of both competitor and spectator.
“Hopefully, the Iraqi children will see that the Americans are here to do good and make their lives better,” said Van Nosrand. “It’s a shame that this isn’t the type of stuff that makes the 5 o’clock news back home. All they’re going to hear about is the cost of the war and when they plan on sending (Coalition Forces) home. They don’t understand that we’re getting the job done the way it’s supposed to be done.”
The ability to successfully hold this type of event shows the boundless progress made in this region.
“We weren’t able to do anything like this a year ago,” said Van Nosrand. “It shows how well Marines have handled Al Anbar Province. It’s a night and day difference.”
The excitement was eventually over after a long day of activities, but a seed of normalcy was planted in the minds of the children. The cultivation of such a successful endeavor between community and Coalition Forces can only forecast brighter days ahead.