“Reconciled Tribes of Ghazaliyah” soccer field brings joy and unity on opening day
BAGHDAD—Capt. Patrick Vardaro, second from left, commander of Company B 1st Battalion, 63rd Armor Regiment, 2nd Advise and Assist Brigade, 1st Infantry Division, United States Division – Center and a Norwood, Mass., native, sits with leaders of the Reconciliation and Support Tribal Council on opening day of a new soccer field July 29 in Ghazaliyah, Iraq. Vardaro said that the project brought a lot of people together—security forces, sheiks, businessmen, and even kids—all of whom have a vested interest in the project. (U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Justin Phemister, 2nd AAB, 1st Inf. Div., USD-C)
Story by: Staff Sgt. Justin Phemister
2nd AAB, 1st Inf. Div.
BAGHDAD—Edward Bellamy, a 19th century novelist and social observer, once said, "If bread is the first necessity of life, recreation is a close second."
Recognizing the importance of a communal recreation area, Soldiers with Company B "Bounty Hunters," 1st "Dragon" Battalion, 63rd Armor Regiment, 2nd Advise and Assist Brigade, 1st Infantry Division, United States Division – Center helped fund and develop the "Reconciled Tribes of Al Ghazaliyah" soccer field, named for the local council that works to keep peace within the area.
"This project is multipurpose," said Capt. Patrick Vardaro, commander of Company B, 1st Bn., 63rd Armor Regt. and a Norwood, Mass., native. "It develops the community, empowers the local leaders, gives the Iraqi Security Forces a good name, and improves the economy through the use of [a] local contractor."
The Ghazaliyah neighborhood was once a hotbed of sectarian violence, but is now on the forefront of unity efforts between different types of communities. The Reconciliation and Support Tribal Council—for which the soccer field is named—is a group of democratically-elected leaders from the mixed tribes in the greater Ghazaliyah area. The council mediates the disputes within its area, diverting a potential cycle of violence spawned by sectarian differences.
The field, a joint effort of Company B, 1st Bn., 63rd Armor Regt., the Sayifiyah Federal Police, and the Reconciliation and Support Tribal Council, helped put smiles on faces of children and strengthen the community.
Previous projects of the Dragon Battalion—such as building bridges, dredging canals, establishing a milk collection facility, and cleaning up city streets may have produced more tangible results, but the goodwill and happiness generated through this project is significant as well.
On July 29, the day the field opened, Iraqis from many different walks of life came together to watch a close match between some of the best players in the area. Religious and political leaders mingled with Soldiers, police, civilians and hundreds of smiling children.
"I was happy for these guys," said Pfc. Zachary Atwood, a driver with the Company B, 1st Bn., 63rd Armor Regt. and a San Jose native. "We've seen openings before at different projects, but you never see the people there this excited."
The game ended with in a 0-0 tie. The opening celebration was not nearly concluded, however, and suddenly excitement amongst the crowd grew. Ahmed Abd al Jabbar, a player with the Iraq national soccer team and an Al Ghazaliyah native, had come to see the new field in his hometown and help the Sayifiyah Federal Police—who are responsible for security in this area—give away soccer balls and jerseys.
Adults and children alike swarmed the field to wait their turn to meet the celebrity and get the equipment being given out so they might arrange a league of their own.
"This is a very safe area now," said Col. Bassim, commander of the Sayifiyah Federal Police with the 22nd Brigade, 6th Iraqi Army Division. "I feel responsible for the security for everyone."
Once the jerseys and footballs were distributed and Ahmed Abd al Jabbar had to go, the police, tribal leaders, and U.S. Soldiers began to disperse. Still, groups of children stayed at the field, joining in pickup games on their community's new field.