By Sgt. Philip Schratwieser, 2nd Bn., 112th Infantry Regt., 2 HBCT, 1st ID, MND-BJune 23, 2009
BAGHDAD - Iraqi kids in the Abu Ghraib area of western Baghdad are just like youngsters everywhere. If you don't give them something fun to do, who knows what they'll get into.
Government officials of Abu Ghraib partnered together with the Iraqi Army and Coalition Forces to provide a place of safety and involvement for local youth..
Soldiers from Company B, 2nd Battalion, 112th Infantry Regiment "Paxton Rangers," 2nd Heavy Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division, Multi-National Division-Baghdad visited an Iraqi Youth Center, here June 11, to help get kids off the streets.
Inside a walled compound alongside local government buildings are soccer fields and other play areas for the children to enjoy.
What they didn't have is sports equipment to use on the fields.
The fact that Iraqis call soccer balls "footballs" became a humorous point in a meeting between Capt. Jason Hoffman, from York, Pa., and Hasen, the Abu Ghraib Youth Center's director, when Hasen presented a list of requested supplies at the behest of Hoffman.
As Hoffman saw footballs on the list he felt surprise and excitement that the Iraqis were getting interested in American football.
Once the correction was made, the director was given a surprise gift of 50 soccer balls.
Hasen, a man in his late 40's, quickly picked up a ball and began dribbling it in the air and bouncing it off his head like a professional.
Soldiers passed out stuffed animals, school and art supplies, and several bottles of bubbles, gifts from the Keystone state, which the children took to immediately.
With a warning not to drink the soapy liquid, they began running around blowing bubbles to the pretend annoyance of some of the adults who began swatting at the bubbles.
Projects like this are increasingly being carried out through the offices of local Iraqi Army units to demonstrate better coordination with the local government and involve themselves on a local level.
"One of our strong lines of effort is reconciliation," said Hoffman. "Reconciliation, not only at the adult level through tribal alliances, but also to reconcile the youth so that in future years we can see the dividends of the youth working together in places such as the youth center."
Many of the children and Iraqi Soldiers expressed their appreciation of their growing friendship.
"Capt. Hoffman and his fellow Soldiers are some of the best I have worked with," said Lieutenant Sadam, an operations officer from the 3rd Battalion, 24th Brigade, 6th Iraqi Army Division, who work in concert with the Paxton Rangers in security operations.
Hasen exemplified the professionalism he has seen in U.S. Soldiers and again expressed his gratitude for their humanitarian efforts.