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‘Football’ dreams come true for Iraqis thanks to Operation Ultimate Goal

5 Feb 2008 | Pfc. Jerry Murphy

No longer worried about insurgents and improvised explosive devices, children at a local school here battled it out during a soccer game held at their school yard Feb. 3, wearing uniforms donated by various organizations from the United States through Operation Ultimate Goal.

 Operation Ultimate Goal is an organization put together through a few Marines from 1st Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment, Regimental Combat Team 1. It was organized to bring uniforms and soccer gear to Iraqi children, playing games in what clothes they had and even some would be without shoes.

 “Before, the kids were playing barefoot in the fields, wearing whatever they had to play in,” said Capt. Brian R. von Kraus, Headquarters and Service Company Commander with 1st Bn., 1st Marines. “Now, they have brand new uniforms and can play with a sense of pride. The kids can play together, and maybe grow up and work together, no matter which tribe they are from.”

 Originally, von Kraus expected to get just a few boxes of uniforms and some soccer balls. Instead, an organization was formed to help raise money for uniforms and soccer gear, and more than 30 boxes of uniforms and gear was delivered to the Iraqis.

 “We definitely weren’t expecting anything like this, we just wanted a few uniforms for the kids so that they can play a real game and be able to tell the difference between the two teams,” said von Kraus. “Now, with all the gear that was donated, there’s potential to start up a league with several teams.”

 With the increasing security provided by the Iraqi Security Forces, the region has become safer, giving the Marines opportunities like this to help the community.

 “We work hard to keep things safe in this area,” said Omar Mohammed, an Iraqi policeman working out of a combined Marine and IP station. “We do it for the future of our families and friends. We do it for Iraq. It is no longer, ‘I am Muslim,’ ‘I am Christian,’ ‘I am Sunni,’ ‘I am Shia.’ It is, ‘I am Iraqi.’”

 Rather than sitting around, talking about playing soccer, and watching a game on television; The Iraqi children can now enjoy the pastime freely, as they did before the region was taken over by insurgents.

 “With the increased security, we feel safe and don’t worry about what’s going on around us,” mentioned Mohammed with a smile on his face. “We can just play and live life just like we did before there were insurgents here.”

 The ‘football game’ (as it is called in Iraq and throughout the world with the exception for the United States) was the first event of many to come in the near future for the local children.

 “We’re taking small steps right now, like the game yesterday, there were no goals set up and they were playing just outside in their school yard,” said von Kraus, from Boston. “We were given goals and shoes for the kids, it just takes time. There were kids still playing barefoot, but that’s just what they are used to… small steps.”

 With the up-coming relief-in-place/transfer-of-authority taking place between 1st Bn., 1st Marines and 2nd Battalion, 24th Marine Regiment, Regimental Combat Team 1, von Kraus hopes 2/24 will continue on with the progress 1/1 has made and bring further help to the community.

 “With us leaving and a new battalion coming on-deck, I hope (2nd Battalion, 24th Marines) can pick up where we left off and build strong relationships with the people and get this program up-and-running,” von Kraus said.