BAGHDAD - Children squeal and giggle with glee on freshly painted red, purple, orange and yellow swings as American Soldiers push them higher and higher into the air, June 1. This could be a park anywhere in the world, except it's not. It's a recently completed Coalition forces funded playground in Sadr City, here.

"This is a tangible way for people to see normalcy," said Master Sgt. Robert LaTour, a civil affairs team leader from Tacoma, Wash., assigned to Company B, 448th Civil Affairs Battalion, attached to 1st Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division. "To have a park next door that people see each and every day is a reminder that things are getting back to normal."

The park, tentatively named Muhalla 518 Family Park, was built by Iraqi contractors and workers from the local community, said LaTour. The project cost $237,000 and took close collaboration between U.S. troops and local government officials to complete it in about a month and a half.

"This is one of the first projects that Coalition forces and local government got together and decided on the location and what it would look like," said LaTour. "It was a really big step in a cooperative effort between the Iraqi Government and Coalition forces in Sadr City."

According to Latour, these types of projects show that the GoI and CF really care about the community and the people of Iraq.

"It gives [Iraqi children] a safe place to play with secure gates so parents can let their kids run free inside without having to worry about them," said LaTour, as children ran from swings to slides to merry-go-rounds.

"It also shows that CF is working with their government," said LaTour. "If [Iraqis] hear someone on the street bad-mouthing Coalition forces or the Iraqi Government, they have something tangible to see and might say, 'They don't seem that bad to me.'"

The Coalition-funded park, right off a main thoroughfare, also brought money into the community, as the Iraqi contractor hired men from the local neighborhood; building a sense of ownership and community pride, added LaTour.

"If you own something, if you believe it's yours, you're going to treat it better," said LaTour. "On projects like this in the community, the goal is for them to take ownership in the community and not let the extremists come in."

Projects like this have a direct connection with the security situation here, added Staff Sgt. Matthew Bissell, a civil affairs team sergeant also assigned to Co. B, 448th CA Bn., 1st BCT, 1st Cav. Div.

"As security improves, [Iraqis] also want to see other things improve in their daily life," said Bissell, a native of Seattle, while children climb all over him as he kneels in the playground. "The kids seem really happy because the park was unlocked and they could swing on their swings."

According to Bissell, he gets a lot of satisfaction from his job and completing projects like these because he can possibly affect the future of Iraqis.

"I think the younger generation in Iraq is going to have a different view," added Bissell. "The average American Soldier treats the kids with respect. They have fun with them and the kids like us."

The official opening ceremony for this project will be sometime in early June when the Iraqis will get to name the park. As for the future of this playground, it lies in the hands of the local government maintaining it for generations to come.

Page last updated Fri July 22nd, 2011 at 12:16