Task Force Summit Soldiers Challenge Iraqis on Soccer Field
June 16, 2008
HAWIJAH, Iraq (Army News Service, Jun. 16, 2008) -- A different kind of battle happened, June 11, in northeastern Iraq -- one where nobody died, no body-armor was necessary and no shots were fired.
Soldiers of the 1st Brigade, 10th Mountain Division, battled it out in a game of soccer against a team of Son's of Iraq members.
The game was the second in a five-game series for Task Force Summit Soldiers in an attempt to show Iraqis in the Hawijah district, "the human-side of the U.S. Soldier -- the non-combatant," said Lt. Col. Christopher Vanek, commander, 1-87.
Although their attempts were valiant, Task Force Summit Soldiers scored only once during the game, losing 4-1 to the Sons of Iraq. The Iraqi team, however, demonstrated why soccer is their national sport -- they dominated throughout. Nevertheless, the outcome was good for both sides: increased friendship and camaraderie.
Ali, a 14-year-old Iraqi, was in Hawijah for the game -- he'd been visiting his uncle there. The teen said he liked the matchup between the Summit Soldiers and the SOI because for him, it was the first time he'd seen an American Soldiers not wearing combat uniforms.
"I've never spoken to a U.S. Soldier before, and now I see them playing soccer with us," Ali said. "They are trying to get to know us. I think that is good and they are very nice."
Over 500 Iraqis from the area attended the event.
The Hawijah district has seen a 90 percent decrease in violent attacks since December. Although violence has struck home with the loss of three Summit Soldiers here in recent weeks, community building efforts such as the soccer game continue.
Vanek said he was apprehensive about allowing his Soldiers to play in the soccer match, considering the recent violence against them. But the it was the Soldiers themselves that convinced him to let them play, he said.
"They decided that the best way to honor the memory of our fallen, is to show the enemy that our mission continues -- they cannot stop our efforts and those of the citizens of this region to establish stability and peace here," he said.
The sacrifices of TF Summit Soldiers and the gains they have helped secure in terms of stability and security, have not gone unnoticed by those Iraqis who participated or watched the soccer game. The loss of a youth center seven months ago -- destroyed by Al Qaeda -- meant young Iraqis in the area had nowhere to gather as a community.
"We did not play so much soccer because it was dangerous and we were afraid," said Mohammad, 24, an SOI member who pulled security at the event. "The terrorists blew our youth center up so that we could not meet as a community there and killed many of our people. But the Americans want to bring us together, help us. And they have brought peace and security back to our city."
Spec. Brian Smith, the Soldier that scored the team's only goal, said he was initially surprised that he and fellow Soldiers would be back in the area to play soccer for a second time.
"I couldn't believe it when they said we were going to be playing our second game in Riyadh," Smith said. He experienced his first fire-fight there in December. "If you had asked me back then if I would be playing soccer here and on top of that without body-armor -- I would have thought you were crazy. But I'm convinced after seeing the changes here since my last visit, that we are accomplishing our mission and bringing a positive change to this area," he said.
Although the Soldiers who made up the soccer team were clad only in the Army's physical training uniforms, security was still a concern with snipers strategically placed on the ground and armed Soldiers with their ISF counterparts and member of the Sons of Iraq visible in all directions.
"It's a risk for everyone involved as it is still executed as a military operation with all the security aspects in-place," Vanek said. "We've taken every precaution necessary to ensure a successful mission. And I believe it was successful."